Music News

The Album Leaf

Were there any justice inherent in the world -- and there is not -- to every 10' x 15' poster of the latest Current Flavor in every chain music outlet would be appended a small postcard, via a single tasteful staple, in the bottom-right corner. Gracing this postcard would be the name -- no picture, no promo shot -- of an individual or band whose work is diametrically, 180-degrees-style opposed to the Current Flavor's chosen genre.

This would fall under the heading of "public service," both for unfairly obscure artists and for those of us whose purchasing decisions are heavily influenced, particularly in dire eras, by trying to uncover artists whose work sounds least like the latest thing. We might even link them, you see; artist-to-artist connections working in symbiosis. In this world I'm creating (and you'll feel free to create your own), every single promo shot that got shipped in the Great Girl-Pop Tsunami that began in the late 1990s would have carried, remora-like, the name of a largely instrumental noise-rock outfit -- another genre that experienced a sharp peak in precisely the same time span. Mandy Moore gets Mouse on Mars; Christina Aguilera gets Mogwai; Jessica Simpson gets godspeed you black emperor!; and Britney Spears gets Tristeza, the San Diego quintet which serves as protean guitarist Jimmy LaValle's day job.

The Album Leaf is LaValle's solo project, and a slightly rawer one than Tristeza, which tends to explore the multi-instrumentalist possibilities available in full-band workouts. That said, the Album Leaf offers a lush, if firmly guitar-centered, instrumentalism; listening to One Day I'll Be on Time, LaValle's second release under that name, what strikes you first is the constant maneuvering among many styles and settings. "Gust of . . . ," the album's opener, is a thrumming, echo-heavy piece reminiscent of Mogwai's low-key Rock Action; "The MP," following directly on its heels, is percussive and jazzy, with ringing keyboards providing the melodic arc. Track three, "Story Board," is a gorgeous acoustic number, layered with real-life field recordings -- a car passing here, a snippet of conversation there -- that lend it an otherworldly, waking-dream quality.

A song like the sludgy "Hangover" represents LaValle's experimental edge, to be sure, and will likely divide listeners -- is the out-of-tune guitar playing that shaky melody a supportable artistic choice, or is it just plain annoying? -- but there's no denying that One Day I'll Be on Time sounds precisely and exactly as LaValle wanted it to. In fact, it may sound too clean for some listeners; as with many instrumental noise bands, the numbers on the Album Leaf's latest may play better in a live setting, where the organic nature of the music can vibe off the audience's energy. But conscientious fans of indie noise and avant-rock will find a welcome sound in LaValle's complex melodies.

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Eric Waggoner