Listening to Between Waves by The Album Leaf is an almost visual experience. Like a Kubrick film, it is serene in its pacing, and the images it conjures are as vast as they are abstract. A variety of moods and personal slideshows will comfortably take over your mind as the music slips beneath your skin. It is ambient, but in no way passive. It pulls you in and dares you to feel. It’s almost meditative in execution, and at its most effective, it will take you on a personal journey unlike any other.
Our guru and spiritual tour guide is a solitary artist by the name of Jimmy LaValle. He does have a backing band helping him out along the way, but in terms of origin and creative decisions, this is his baby. It should be no surprise to anyone that he has also scored films and likes to project visual art pieces during live performances. LaValle doesn’t really write music, he creates visual and sonic landscapes. He doesn’t so much tell stories, but helps you to get in touch with your own.
Ambient music isn’t always an easy sell. It is often dismissed as mere background music or pretentious noodling. Of course, this isn’t the case. If you open your mind up and let it wash over you, it can reach you in ways which words simply can’t. Much like a pivotal shot in a film, ambient music can implicitly tell you what you should be feeling. It doesn’t force feed or coddle. LaValle understands this, which is why ambient gems like “False Dawn,” “Back to the Start,” and “Lost in the Fog,” make this record easy and enjoyable to digest.
If there are any qualms I have about Between Waves, it is the lyrics. They sometimes interrupt the flow of the album. It’s akin to having that friend who likes to spell out everything that is happening during a movie. They seem to be explicitly telling us how we should be feeling, which completely rips me out of the trance I was originally in. I understand that LaValle is trying to reach a broader audience (some people really needs words in their music), but it doesn’t completely work for me.
The sole exception is the title track, whose transfusion of ambience and words feels organic and well earned. LaValle reaches us on a human level by laying out his own true feelings on the table. By admitting to “taking breaths between waves,” we get to hear him at his most vulnerable, something a backing track would not be able to convey on its own. He seems to say, “Like you, I can feel extremely overwhelmed by this world,” which to a listener can be as comforting as the music that backs the sentiment.
What takes away from that power are the nine extra tracks tacked onto this deluxe edition, which unfortunately suffers the fate of being way too bloated and unnecessary to be taken in as an artistic whole. This extra fat is really only for die-hards. That said, “Between Waves (The One AM Radio Remix)” is a stripped-down version that is somehow even more emotionally exhausting, and well worth checking out. Really, the entirety of the original album deserves your attention. Taken away from it’s deluxe packaging, it truly is a beautiful, singular piece of work, that might be more immersive than most films you see this year.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Kate Erickson