"Window," the first track on The Album Leaf's new record, In a Safe Place, is what would be playing on the first safe day after nuclear fallout, the day when the survivors open the lids to their underground shelters and blink into the sun as the brave new world stretches before them. The strings and the spacey, airy notes sound like stretching. Add in drums and vibraphone--as "Thule," the next track does--and you have everyone walking around, exploring rocks and things, looking around, taking it all in for the first time.
The Album Leaf is Jimmy LaValle, formerly of Tristeza, and his singular musical vision. The project started back in 1998, and LaValle has released several Album Leaf singles and EPs, but In a Safe Place is his third full-length, and his first release on Sub Pop. LaValle went to Iceland to record In a Safe Place with his friends from Sigur Rós, Múm and Amina (Sigur Rós' string section), as well as Black Heart Procession.
"I wanted to go work with my friends on a record," explained LaValle, who toured with Sigur Rós after his second record, One Day I'll Be on Time (Tiger Style, 2001).
Being in Iceland helped focus the music LaValle was creating for In a Safe Place; the strings and piano combined with electronic beats on "TwentyTwoFourteen" breathe Iceland, a marriage of the technological and natural.
"Where I am and my surroundings affects my music," said LaValle, who lives in San Diego. If he hadn't recorded it in Iceland, "(In a Safe Place) probably would have sounded different.
"Being solo, you don't really have to answer to anybody else," said LaValle. "I'm the creative force, I only have to answer to myself." But Sigur Rós became another creative opinion for In a Safe Place, and their musicianship and strikingly similar musical techniques lend themselves well to LaValle's work.
LaValle described In a Safe Place as "just a step up, a natural step up" from his previous work. In A Safe Place is more beat-driven, and LaValle's vocals appear along with Pall Jenkins of The Black Heart Procession on "On Your Way," which is less of an ambient soundscape and more of a pop song. "Over the Pond" has a strange, alien-like voice in the background as Jon Thor Birgisson of Sigur Rós sings over a simple keyboard line, and as the song progresses, the sounds begin to accumulate. Then a cello comes in, then a violin, until it's as if all of LaValle's collaborators on the record have tapped themselves in.
For the tour to support In a Safe Place, LaValle has enlisted four other musicians: a violinist, drummer, multi-instrumentalist and guitarist. The live show is augmented by multimedia projections. There are essentially "two different versions: the Album Leaf record, and Album Leaf live," LaValle explained.
LaValle's music is ambiguous in that sense, though; there is that overall mood of rejuvenation, of waking up to a world that is the same but somehow entirely changed. But with such lush scenery, it's open for interpretation.
"I don't really let people think about what I'm thinking about. I let them think about what they want to think about," said LaValle. "The record's gone through me and now it's for you."