The Album Leaf – Master of Melancholy

The Album Leaf has been around for quite a while. The solo musical project was founded by multi-instrumentalist Jimmy LaValle in 1998, only to have its first album released the following year. Originally a guitarist for the San Diego-based post-rock band Tristeza, LaValle is now widely known for his iconic use of electronics and Rhodes piano. His tracks are predominantly instrumental, and strike a unique balance between ambient music and post-rock.

There’s something oddly ‘faceless’ about The Album Leaf. I don’t know why, but despite knowing what LaValle looks like, I find it hard to picture him when listening to his music. In the rare occasions that he does use vocals, the voices are mixed to blend into the background. The music is so simple and organic, that it feels as if no one is, in fact, playing it at all. What remains is an acute feeling of yearning and wonder, a trait often associated with ambient music, such as that of Eluvium or Helios. The familiar ding of the Rhodes piano is everywhere in LaValle’s music, and it is baffling to hear how he makes this electronic sound from the 70’s ooze such a distinct melancholy.

LaValle began his career by collaborating with a whole variety of San Diego based bands. Nowadays he seems to have found his place alongside many contemporary Icelandic musicians. Much of his music has been made in collaboration with band members from Sigur Rós, Amiina, and Múm. He was also part of the Iceland Airwaves back in 2003, where he was backed by his collaborators. His music has been recognized as being particularly cinematic. To mention only a few examples, his song “Over The Pond” was used in Paulo Sorrentino’s The Family Friend, and more recently in a stunning compilation of Richard Linklater’s films created by Sight & Sound Magazine in the lead-up to the release of Boyhood.

Sadly, we haven’t seen a new studio album by The Album Leaf since 2010, but LaValle is clearly keeping himself busy. About a year ago he released this incredible song in collaboration with Oregon-based musician Peter Broderick, and his composed soundtrack to the 2014 film Spring was only just released last March.

Still, if you haven’t heard of The Album Leaf, you have a lot of catching up to do. Get listening folks!