It’s been roughly two decades since Jimmy LaValle entered the music world, performing in groups like Tristeza, GoGoGo Airheart, and even The Locust, that lovable group of costumed new-wave/power-violence weirdos. It’s hard to imagine LaValle donning a skin-tight nylon suit these days, but his vibrant history of world-building still informs the music of his current project, The Album Leaf. On their new album Between Waves, these worlds take a multitude of forms, each one as engrossing as the next.
Between Waves is The Album Leaf’s sixth studio album and first for Relapse, after a run of full-lengths for Sub Pop and a string of soundtrack work and collaborations. While the once-solo project has long since turned into a group effort, this album is the first to be recorded and produced with an entire band. And it shows: The Album Leaf no longer sound like an augmented LaValle endeavor; the newly-minted band vigorously guides the Rhodes-driven melodies and fleshes out the post-rock dynamics with ambient synths and keyboards, driving percussion, and swelling trumpet work for music that’s at once celebratory and solemn, evocative and present.
But The Album Leaf’s articulation of presence has always been dependent on a wholesale subscription to Western harmonic conventions in order to fulfill its life-affirming promises. In this sense, what The Album Leaf’s music actually affirms is the impossibility of security. The emotions and memories conjured here are marked by a transitory in-between-ness, set in an otherwise chaotic, unpredictable world. But it’s in these crevices and fleeting moments where the music finds its most exquisite expressions. As LaValle himself sings on the closing title track, “Between waves / You take my breath.”