The Album Leaf – Seal Beach EP

The Album Leaf
Seal Beach EP

Among all of the post-rock and minimalism floating about in the ocean of independent music since the late 90s, something has gone awry too often. Melody has been pushed aside in the name of experimentation and electronic tinkering. Frequently, contemporary artists will create interesting sounds, but they are so disjointed, either between songs or even worse within individual tracks, that you don’t know what to do with the aural output. Interesting does not always equal appealing. So now you know what my biggest gripe is against the talented keyboardists and knob-flickers whose skills fade at the door of memorable, progressive tunes. Jimmy LaValle, who is The Album Leaf, bucks that trend.

LaValle, perhaps better known as guitarist with the San Diego instrumental post-rock band Tristeza, has avoided the aforementioned pitfall with solo records that demonstrate experimental beauty with warmth and precision. On his latest release, Seal Beach EP, LaValle opens with the keyboard-centered “Malmo,” presumably named after one of Sweden’s largest cities. After over a minute of simulated rainfall with emphatic but slow beats, LaValle picks up the rhythm without dramatically raising the tension. Utilizing light IDM touches that recall Telefon Tel Aviv’s effervescent debut, Fahrenheit Fair Enough, LaValle enlivens “Malmo” and makes his EP opener calmly exciting.

“Brennivin” has ascending and descending echoed keyboard lines that conjure up pre-dawn awakenings on a tropical island. LaValle’s tight loops and repetitious drum beats strengthen the gentle refrains around which “Brennivin” focuses. One of LaValle’s major strengths is his ability to create instrumental tracks that strike your emotions so directly that you easily craft visual, situational, and verbal settings around the music. The brilliance of “Brennivin” is that it leaves the imaginary lyrics up to the individual listener. The EP’s title track recalls some of the gorgeous, subtle instrumental pieces that Christophe Beck composed for the soundtrack to Guinevere in 1999. However, LaValle’s affecting, nostalgic “Seal Beach” is perfect without Sarah Polley’s soothing vocals.

For “Christiansands,” LaValle combines guitar and drums for a more acoustic feel. The guitar-driven variations on the central theme and lack of overbearing electronic trickery by LaValle move the song along faster than any of the other four tracks. Yet, nothing seems rushed, and “Christiansands” has a distinctly positive, chilly, slightly wet spring afternoon feeling. LaValle ends Seal Beach with “One Minute,” which may prove there is life after death. If we turned the clock back 35 years, Nick Drake would face serious competition by LaValle. “One Minute” is stunning. LaValle’s strong playing on the guitar is so reminiscent of Drake’s style throughout his three studio albums that you listen in appreciative, warm-hearted shock and want the entrancing track to last much longer than its four minutes and 43 seconds. Thanks to Sony and Philips for that CD thing with the track repeat function.

With so many recordings being released today in a post-rock, instrumentally quiet manner with great care for the means but insufficient effort toward the end, it’s refreshing to find an artist who hasn’t forgotten the need and desire for melody. On Seal Beach, LaValle proves that his melodic sensibilities have only sharpened over time, without weakening his instrumental experimentation. Few releases in recent years have been as soothing, interesting, and instantly attractive as Seal Beach. This is a highly recommended work to be enjoyed for tranquility in a constantly changing world.