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The Album Leaf: A Chorus of Storytellers (Sub Pop) 

With carefully controlled atmospherics and minimal vocals, The Album Leaf deals in calm, impressionistic beauty.

Led by San Diego guitarist Jimmy LaValle, The Album Leaf resides in its own little Venn diagram segment that combines former tourmate and obvious influence Sigur Rós, electronica's softer side and the pop-ambient hybrid of labelmate The Postal Service.

A Chorus of Storytellers marks the first time The Album Leaf has recorded as a full band. "Stand Still" makes the most of the prominent energy of live drums, blending in hypnotic strings to achieve an enjoyable balance of urgency and restraint. But even though LaValle's talents lean toward moodiness and a comforting lull, tension and contrast is too often absent here, leaving the slower and more stately songs to pass with barely a flicker.

"Until the Last" is another standout, with strings washing over a trippy beat and a repeated, exultant keyboard riff. "Blank Pages" is sketched with a discreet uneasiness, sounding like it's made for heavy late-night introspection. This is an easy album to slip into, one that shades its prettiness with a bit of mystery and melancholy.

Still, there's a restraint that runs contrary to the possibilities of recording with a full band. A Chorus of Storytellers sounds just as purposefully and slowly layered as LaValle's solo studio efforts.

The title and the new approach suggest a presentation of The Album Leaf as something of an orchestra, but if it is, it's an orchestra held back by clipped wings.

More by Eric Swedlund

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