The Album Leaf - A Chorus of Storytellers
Record Label: Sub Pop
Release Date: February 2, 2010
A Chorus of Storytellers is about fifty minutes of delicate ambient pop with light electronic textures and some vocals here and there. If you're at all familiar with The Album Leaf, that shouldn't come as any kind of surprise. The fifth full-length from the (formerly) solo project of Jimmy LaValle (also of Tristeza and formerly of several other bands, including Swing Kids) falls squarely in line with his previous offerings (despite the fact that he's now recording with a full band), and depending on what you're looking for, this can be a good or a bad thing. Fans will likely be satisfied by yet another consistent release, but those seeking some signs of artistic growth won't be finding it here. It would be unfair to expect LaValle to suddenly start making more pulse-pounding music, but even so, Storytellers doesn't offer much in the way of new ideas.
"Perro" ushers the album in with a mellow drone and what sound like ghostly field-recorded voices. "Blank Pages" continues in a very up-the-middle Album Leaf fashion with electric piano, electronic percussion and lazily weaving strings, and it's followed by "There Is a Wind", the disc's first vocal track. In the span of these first three songs, the newcomer is offered a succinct summary of The Album Leaf's discography thus far. Across LaValle's catalog, you'll find various combinations of the near-silent hum of the opener, the slow-building creep of the comparatively rhythmic second song, and the occasional vocal piece, which usually takes The One AM Radio's hushed indie electronic style and adds a dash of hopefulness.
"Within Dreams" is beautifully melodic with lush orchestration, but it also brings into sharp focus one issue I've always had with The Album Leaf. When you have otherwise organic arrangements, the glitchy electronic beats can make something that could be warm and majestic sound slightly cold and clinical. Still, it stands as the strongest cut on The Chorus of Storytellers and perhaps my favorite that LaValle has released under his solo moniker. "Falling From the Sun" highlights another drawback. It's one of the vocal tunes sprinkled throughout the album, and its repetitive "chorus" ("find a way to fall") detracts from the fact that it's one of the more interesting tracks musically.
More so than any other songs here, "Stand Still" and "We Are" put the "rock" in The Album Leaf's post-rock (at least comparatively speaking). The focus of the instrumental parts is rooted much more in melody than in texture, but unfortunately the former is a little too circular to completely command attention for five full minutes, and the latter features more of LaValle's reserved but run-of-the-mill vocals. Considerably softer is the appropriately titled "Summer Fog", which rolls in slowly and lingers awhile before lifting softly, as if being burned off by the rising sun. Similar is "Tied Knots", whose slide guitar washes bring the album to a gentle close.
When it comes down to it, I guess everyone has their niche, and as The Album Leaf, LaValle seems comfortable being the man making laid-back soundtracks for nocturnal reflection. For what it is, A Chorus of Storytellers is a steady, if predictable, addition to his catalog. In comparison with the current post-rock landscape, it's largely uninteresting, but in creating a palatable easy-listening experience, it's a definite success. Like its predecessors, though, this is one story that's probably best told at bedtime.
I actually really love this record. I love the wistful, breezy nature of it. I hadn't really listened to much of their stuff before this disc, so maybe that's why it has such an impact. But I really do love it.
I love the Album Leaf. I discovered them on a whim, and have never turned back since. I always listen to "One Day I'll Be on Time" when it's bed time because it is so calming. Beautiful music. I can't wait to hear this album.