The Album Leaf is a translation from the German word “Albumblatt,” a term used occasionally to title classical pieces of the Romantic era. The Album Leaf is also Jimmy LaValle, of the band Tristeza, and An Orchestrated Rise to Fall is the first release of his solo project, which apparently takes its name from a specific Chopin piece.
I’m not very knowledgeable in the realm of classical music, and I have never heard anything by Tristeza, but An Orchestrated Rise to Fall has me intrigued on both fronts. My wife wears the classical pants in my family, so it won’t be hard to brush up on Chopin a little, but it will be up to me to seek out Tristeza. If LaValle’s work with them is anything like The Album Leaf, I’m definitely interested. Apparently, Chopin’s work by the same name greatly inspired LaValle, and the slow, thoughtful pace of this mainly instrumental album definitely seems to complement the idea of a moderato.
The album’s opening track, “Wander,” is an appropriate way to start this album, and the title is indicative of the of the progression through each piece. The song starts with a soft wash of keyboards building a picture of lush scenery that reminds you that Enya isn’t the only place to find landscape in music, then fades in a drum and bass rhythm section that propels the listener down the forest path. At times it verges on becoming a Doctor Who/ space music farce, but it sets the mood for the rest of the album.
“An Interview” explores a sound composition that is a blend of ambient noise, muted voices, and slow guitar picking. Like a classical composition, the songs themselves are little more than themes and chord progressions, but the sparse melodies maintain the lilting mood of the disc. “September Song” might leave you feeling like you’re stuck in the middle of a Jack Handy story on Saturday Night Live, but LaValle is careful not to dwell on one sound element for too long, keeping the listener interested by weaving barely recognized sound elements into each piece of music. And this is less an album of pop composition as it is art music. For instance, on the song “Airplane,” the composition opens with microphone hiss, evolving into a indiscernible conversation, which fades out to a simple guitar and keyboard/string melody, which then recedes in favor of airport noises as airplanes fly overhead, only to return to the melody once more. Think Andrew Badalamenti on lots of Valium.
The only things that don’t work on this album are: 1) the entirely too long silent hiss that introduces “This Short Story,” the only song that wasn’t a home recording and ironically sounds way too complex and crafted to fit into the rest of this minimalist album; 2) the fact that “Lounge Act” and “We Once Were” appear twice in different versions, when the tracks labeled “(Two)” that appear at the end of the disc are definitely superior to the first versions (in fact, the first version of “Lounge Act” is barely thirty seconds long, while the second one is a full song with even a smattering of lyrics tossed in); 3) the fact that this album’s strength and weakness can be noted in its use of volume changes to create texture. At points the changes in volume really work to bring out the subtlety of the music, but then on other tracks it reaches deafening proportions unless you’re careful with your stereo’s volume knob.
On the whole, this is a pleasant and contemplative album. It’s the soundtrack to a sunny, lazy day spent remembering, and perhaps regretting. And it’s not often that someone tries to create beautiful music these days, which The Album Leaf definitely aspires to and usually achieves.