The Album Leaf took the stage Saturday at the Bluebird and proved to the audience that less is more when it comes to music. Their sparse, modulating beat arrangements, murmured vocals, muted trumpet and violin worked cohesively to create densely atmospheric sound. Their set drew from their widely acclaimed work of the early and mid 2000’s, particularly In a Safe Place and their stunning new album Between Waves (Relapse Records), accompanied by entrancing, chimeric visual displays projected onto intersecting squares of mesh fabric.
Denver warmly welcomed the band back to Denver after a six year hiatus, having kept quiet since they toured A Chorus of Storytellers back in 2010. Although the show wasn’t sold out, the band drew a sizeable crowd on the cool Saturday night of devoted listeners, eager to hear and see what they came up with during their extended lunch break. It was somewhat surprising to see devoted fans hollering in excitement for ambient post-rock, but considering the on stage performance, the electric chemistry and technical deftness, the crowd reaction made perfect sense.
Their set consisted of well recognized tracks like, “Over the Pond” and ‘Find our Way” from In a Safe Place much to the crowds delight, and then was finished off by a stunning succession of new songs such as “False Lights” and “Back to the Start”.
To those who aren’t too familiar with The Album Leaf, their multitude of albums dating from 1998-2010 will undoubtedly sound familiar, seeing as they’ve been featured in movies, T.V. and various other media outlets throughout the 2000’s including SCANDAL and Sons of Anarchy. They’ve toured all over the world, including two global tours with Icelandic band Sigur Rós.
The five piece band is a project of Jimmy Valle, and the band began back in the late 90’s in San Diego. Their first show was at the Che Cafe, the birthplace of other San Diego bands including Weatherbox and Inspired in the Sleep.
Their sound is syncretic, and their bio lists influences of a wide range of eras and styles, including the late 60’s German Ambient-Psych group Can, Mariachi music and the immortal Brian Eno.
Many recount their albums with a certain nostalgic sleepiness; the band we layed in our blue-lit bedrooms listening to, while staying up late to study for a class, or during a cloudy, particularly blue day. While their albums sleep seamlessly into the backdrop, in my opinion the band is best enjoyed live.
The Album Leaf is known for their light shows, and their performances paired with the visual projections made for wholly new experience for me despite my previous familiarity. I felt myself slipping down into a sound hole, a whirling, walless room of thought.
The Album Leaf put much digestion and time recording their August release Between Waves, a meticulously arranged and a somewhat surprising leap forward. The album relies more on electronic construction than they have previously, but the overall tone is unmistakable. The new tracks slipped into their repertoire easily, adding newfound depth and layers on top of their already very solid foundation. Their synth lines recall those of another successful San Diego based band Pinback who also utilizes a driving bassline, synthesizer and low flying vocals. Both bands bring the same bluish colors and tones to mind. Regardless, the unforgettable blue hues of their sound of The Album Leaf is due to their originality and experimentation, not at all to the detriment of their technique.
These days, one often feels like everything has already been done. The internet has accelerated the growing branches of music and art genres; now splintering off into a dazzling, confusing array of postmodern art and forms of expression. It often seems like we’ve explored all possible nooks and crannies, anything new is almost low-level appropriation. The Album Leaf is proof that this notion is false. Their performance on Saturday night proved that there is always room for new forms and more branches. The band exhibited their nearly innate technical deftness, immense creativity, and masterful manipulation of mood. All they left us wanting for is a return visit.