The Album Leaf

Into the Blue Again

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From the beginning, Jimmy LaValle's Album Leaf project was one of the calmest acts in indie rock. Into the Blue Again proves, as its 2004 predecessor did as well, that the Album Leaf is also becoming one of the tamest acts in indie rock. LaValle is a musical craftsman, and his productions are thoughtful, economical and warm (most of the record was performed by him alone). Like Sigur Rós, whose studio and string section he's used in the past, LaValle understands the power of muted arrangements, of ringing chords, and of drawing out those chords to exactly the right length before repeating them or moving on. These elements could have easily resulted in a great record, but Into the Blue Again isn't great, or even very good. While ambient music with relatively straight-ahead percussion has been a mainstay of indie music from Eno to Black Dog to Sigur Rós themselves, those who have excelled with it have had something interesting to focus on, such as Eno's melodic sense, Black Dog's otherworldly effects, or Sigur Rós' unorthodox instrumentation and use of building dynamics. LaValle's take on ambient music isn't particularly diverting; his melodies are broad and familiar, his drum programming is bland and bar-band-formulaic (that applies also to his compatriot here, Telefon Tel Aviv's Joshua Eustis), and his vocals are depressive and resigned. Most of Into the Blue Again is instrumental, and it serves well as background music -- never sticking out, floating by the listener -- but unlike his earlier recordings, there's little here that rewards close listening.

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