The new album by The Album Leaf — one Jimmy LaValle and all the musicians who chip in to help — is titled In a Safe Place, and what an appropriate title it is. For whenever I listen to this endlessly pretty piece of work, I feel like I’m transported to a safer, calmer place. Somewhere nice, like the side of a stream, or in the arms of a caring friend, because those are exactly the kinds of places that this lovely little album evokes. It’s such an endearing, comforting listen, that if I’m not careful I might end up referring to it as my “dear.”
Musically speaking, it’s also an appropriate title. The Album Leaf runs in the same musical vein as those gentle Icelandic darlings, Sigur Rós and Múm, but without the eccentricities that turn off so many. LaValle gets pretty, but resists the temptation to use grandiose strings; and he gets cutesy and soft, too, but without the whispered little four-year-old vocals of Múm. Consider it the Coldplay of the Icelandic post-rock world.
Not to imply that LaValle has dumbed things down or makes music for more commercial ears, or is an imitation of either of those two bands. The Album Leaf’s music is a brand of mostly instrumental, pastoral post rock/electronica that’s all LaValle’s own, and assistance comes in the form of everyone from Sigur Rós’s Jon Thor Birgisson to The Black Heart Procession’s Pall Jenkins, from Kjartan Sveinsson to Gyda Valtysdottir of Múm. And it’s all very good.
The first track, “Window,” is more or less an extensive intro to the second track, “Thule,” but it’s a fine song on it’s own with crystalline Moogs and deep bells, accentuated by beautiful cello swells. It’s a great mood-setter for what’s to come. “On Your Way” is a conventional rock song made pretty with guitar and tinkling chimes, featuring the vocals of Pall Jenkins. The comforting, gentle “Twentytwofourteen” and “The Outer Banks” are both lovely electronic songs that will satisfy anyone longing for the earlier works of Múm.
On two of the tracks, the music transcends the “very good” level and downright knocks down the wall that encloses such oft-loved tracks as “Vidrar Vel Til Loftarasa” and “We Have A Map Of The Piano.” The first of them, “Over The Pond,” taps into the same sort of awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, tear-jerking beauty that Sigur Rós is currently master of. Featuring Jonsi’s Hopelandic vocals, trickling electronic piano, cello, and bells, it stands head and shoulders above some of the other songs. “Eastern Glow,” on the other hand, is just a damn good song, slowly thumping along with an electronic beat, and growing increasingly pretty as it continues.
And with more listens, it becomes clear that it’s not only those two tracks that shine, but also the entire release. While there are perhaps other albums this year that are stronger overall, or do more for me personally, this album still glows like a little gem, and is there whenever I need comforting or just want to give my ears a treat. Life is beautiful and this album shows it.
Written by Richie DeMaria.