The Album Leaf have now been crafting beautifully layered soundscapes for the better part of two decades. When Jimmy LaValle founded the act in 1998, it initially functioned as a mere side-project from his gig as a guitarist for the post-rock band, Tristeza. However eighteen years and five full-length studio albums later, LaValle’s absorbingly hypnotic brand of music has managed to firmly cement his place amongst some of the top ambient acts of the past few decades. His hushed sound wavers in the background allowing it to function as relaxation music for a more casual-minded audience. Meanwhile, his dense walls of digital tones appeal to fans of more esoteric and complex forms of music.
The Album Leaf’s most recent album tries to appease this diverse base of listeners whilst still building upon the band’s impressive legacy. Fortunately for longtime fans, Between Waves rarely strays far from the formula employed by its predecessors. While LaValle’s sound certainly has evolved somewhat since the act’s formative, more minimalist days – which is evinced by the eerie percussive textures of “Wandering Still” – he still maintains an impressive sense of delicacy. “False Down” and “Back To The Start” are reminders of the band’s ability to tactfully weave together subdued harmonies and soft melodies. Both pieces work to gradually introduce new layers to static harmonic progressions. By doing so, they establish some delightfully peaceful yet simultaneously complex atmospheres.
While LaValle’s intricately layered synthesizers play a predictably prominent role on this album, Between Waves’ other instruments are given plenty of opportunities to shine. Particularly the syncopated percussive work on certain tracks (e.g. “Glimmering Lights” and “Lost In the Fog”) helps to add a frenetic energy to the band’s otherwise muted palette of sounds. While guitar plays a somewhat secondary role on this album, a handful of passages successfully pull off some memorable flourishes. “Lost In the Fog” features beautiful electric guitar arpeggios, while “Glimmering Lights” introduces a captivating riff of it’s own. Vocals also make several surprising appearances on the album; they can be heard on three tracks: “New Soul,” “Never Far,” and “Between Waves.” While the former two vocal lines offer somewhat unmemorable melodic refrains, LaValle’s minimalist performance allows them to merely float in the background, as not to distract from the accompanying instrumental sections. The album’s three vocal tracks – and most of Between Waves in general – boasts a strikingly polished sound that could successfully translate to even the most unforgiving of car stereo systems.
On the whole, Between Waves is another impressive outing from the San Diego-based act. It offers a couple standout tracks (most notably “False Down” and “Lost In The Fog”). While it also possesses some duller, largely forgettable moments which prevent the album from ever truly exceeding the lofty expectations set by the band’s gorgeously understated catalog, Between Waves still manages to reward the fans. The Album Leaf have crafted yet another engaging collection of charmingly subdued ambient songs.