Over the course of seventeen years, The Album Leaf has evolved from the introspective, studio-based explorations of former Tristeza and The Locust member Jimmy LaValle, into a focused live quartet. Between Waves, the band’s latest and first with Relapse Records (the metallic home to bands like Obituary, Death, and Ghoul), marks the first time LaValle and his touring bandmates have written and recorded together in the studio. As such, chemistry abounds. Between Waves is rich with an organic realness, for lack of a better term, that previous albums lacked. LaValle forgoes collaborative experimentation with Telefon Tel Aviv (Into the Blue Again, 2006), Sigur Ros, mum, and The Black Heart Procession (In a Safe Place, 2004), and entrusts his most consistent collaborators with helping him realize his visions.
LaValle and Co. draw on influences ranging from German psych bands like Can and their more minimalist contemporaries Cluster and Harmonia, flirtations with the ambience of Brian Eno (a frequent collaborator of the aforementioned minimalists), and sound collages of glitchy electro dancing with acoustic instrumentation. Dream-pop soundtracks built around repetition. Like the title would suggest, Between Waves isn’t necessarily full of emotional highs and lows but instead finds sonic influence in the ebb and flow of the ocean.
The lumbering low end of “False Dawn” morphs into something more angular and glitchy, a preview of the electro-acoustic landscapes that define Between Waves. “New Soul” recalls the softer side gloomy post-metal of bands like Junius and If These Trees Could Talk. LaValle’s vocals are front and center, pensive and reflective. On previous albums, LaValle’s vocals seemed inconsistent, the band leader either unsure of himself or the songs and how to rightly incorporate his vocalizations. On Between Waves, LaValle sounds more comfortable taking the lead and his delivery is more natural.
Drummer Tim Reece’s ability to blend live and electronic drums, weaving his organic rhythms around pre-programmed loops and dancing with LaValle’s Rhodes, drives much of Between Waves. This dance takes center stage on “Lost in the Fog” and again on “Glimmering Lights.”
“Back to the Start” is a triumphant clarion call. “Wandering Still,” lush with synthesizer swells pushing and pulling against Reece’s mathy syncopation, a joyful, day-is-dawning praise chorus.
Boom bap drums, pulsing synths, and LaValle’s vocals; everything comes together on the album closing title track. “Take my breath, between waves,” LaValle sings, as the song swells and crashes around him.
It’s been six years since The Album Leaf released A Chorus of Storytellers, and four since LaValle teamed up with Mark Kozalek for Perils of the Sea. Over that time LaValle reportedly wrote 30 songs, chipping away at his band’s output to settle on a comfortable 8 songs. The release of Between Waves itself has been a slow burn, since NPR premiered debut single “New Soul” (along with it’s haunting black and white music video) in October of last year. 10 months later, the accompanying full-length is here.
Approaching twenty years, LaValle’s career is already longer than many of the band’s the multi-instrumentalist cites as influences. While it’s not genre-defining like 2004’s In a Safe Place, or as avant-garde as Perils, Between Waves is triumphant, a high point in a long and endlessly creative career.