The Album Leaf is a side project of Jimmy LaValle, who is the drummer in San Diego post-rock band Tristeza. I did not know that until recently. You see, for some reason i run into Album Leaf MP3's all over the internet. I have about 7 tracks sitting on my hard drive. The only URL i can find right now is at Epitonic.com, but i swear there is more out there.
Anyway, the point is that every one of the songs i have downloaded by The Album Leaf has been excellent. Wonderful spaced out keyboards and guitar drones combined with awesome drumming. A lot like Tristeza, now that i think about it, only mellower. Oh yeah -- and there are quite often goofy samples scattered about. Not samples like in a techno song, but samples like in Godspeed You Black Emperor! -- as if Mr. Lavelle wanders around with a tape recorder catching random noises and conversations, and then he plays these tapes while performing his music. Sometimes it's the sound of a street. Sometimes somebody talking. When used as to accent the music, it works more often than not.
This is an EP. What that means anymore i do not exactly know. It has only 4 songs on it, but the total length of the recording is 44:55, which is a good 6:27 longer than the latest Mogwai album, Rock Action. So what is the difference between an album and an EP? An EP costs less. As far as i can tell, that's about it. I paid half as much for this EP as i did for that Mogwai album. Whatever. There are only four songs, so i'll discuss each of them.
Things start off with Project Loop, which is the most Tristeza-like track on the EP in that it features Mr. LaValle beating his drumset much like he does on Tristeza albums. Listening to this one song, you can tell that he is the drummer in a rock band. A very talented drummer in fact. Over this great repetitive drumming is a happy little keyboard melody that just bounces around. La la la -- it's a light happy little tune.
Glisten starts off with the sound of rain. The rain provides a sort of constant white noise percussion, over which LaValle plays keyboards. The melody on this song is a lovely little thing that meanders around in front of the rain. This song is quite nice and relaxing.
The next track really captures the feel of Six A.M., especially that feel of still being awake at that time. Organs drone and drum beats echo and bass riffs glow. It's as if all of the instruments were recorded when they were sleepy -- the notes are there, just not fully formed yet. (Give that bass some coffee, and then get recording!) It's a very dubby song. Eventually, a strong keyboard melody comes over top of it all. The song swells, and a light acoustic guitar pops in... The whole song, in fact, grows really nicely. It creates a wonderful 6 minutes of drone. I feel that this is the real standout track on the EP. It just grows so nicely, like waking up after dozing off at Six A.M..
Now, i said that this EP lasts 44:55, and yet the first three songs take up only 15:49 of the entire length. Doing some quick math that means that the final track clocks in at about 30 minutes. Hoo boy....
But The Off White Room is kind of arbitrarily put together as one song. Really, it could easily have been divided into two or three parts, as there are three distinct movements to the song. Why LaValle chose to do this as one song is an interesting question -- i think it has to do with the fact that the background recording is the same. That is, the song is a 30 minute field recording with two other songs played over a different part of the recording.
The field recording was, apparently, made in an off white room. Or at least some type of room, near a road. I hear car sounds, the occasional distant voice, and birds. Listenting to the recording, i can envision sitting in a room in San Diego, listening to the cars on the road and the birds on the trees. Just relaxing....
I think the field recording sounds good -- i get a real sense of mood, of a sleepy Sunday afternoon in a different city. My cats, on the other hand, are not so impressed. Sometimes they react to the things i listen to. For example, the cat sound at the end of the first Pineal Ventana album angers my cats, and some of those cat food commercials have cat sounds that are realistic enough to make Arthur get up and look for a rival! But both of my cats ignore the birds here. Not realistic enough to fool a cat i guess, but is that really a criticism? Like i said, i can really feel myself transported to a different place, so it works for me.
Now, over this recording there are two different songs. The first is a light guitar and keyboards piece that wells up in front of the bird and traffic sounds at the beginning. It's nice enough and continues the whole "relaxing in the room" feel. The fact that the song almost imperceptibly fades back into the recording makes it seem almost unreal. Like the instruments were in the room with the listener, and now they have gone quiet to listen to the birds outside.
The bird and traffic noises take up the bulk of this song -- a full 15 minutes of just the recording. I consider this the second movement.
The third movement of the song is totally discongruous. It comes out of nowhere, shocking the birds and the listener. You see, at about 24 mintues into the track it becomes a cheesey synthpop tune. Kratwerk-esque drum machine beats pop and crackle in the background. Keyboards drone and squeal, and LaValle sings "Computer Love" over and over in a Gary Numan-esque voice. It's silly and happy. And it ends the EP on an awake and up-note.
On the whole i feel that this is a good EP. I am glad that it is an EP, because if i had paid $14 and gotten 15 minutes worth of "road and bird noises" i might have been pretty annoyed. However, half that price for 4 (really 5) good tunes is a fair price i think. So maybe that's why this is an EP and not an album!
On the whole i would say that this EP continues in the same vein that i have come to expect from The Album Leaf -- really beautiful music perfect for just sitting around and relaxing.