The Album Leaf has always made dense music. Jimmy LaValle's compositions are sometimes lush and intricate, sometimes atmospheric and weightless, but there's always a lot happening in every track and various pieces to unravel. But I'm not sure at any point I'd ever have called The Album Leaf "heavy." That makes it all the more curious that, after a decade working with reputable Seattle indie label Sub Pop, The Album Leaf has signed with Relapse Records, renowned outpost for innovative metal acts, whose list of releases includes Mastodon, Pig Destroyer and Brutal Truth.
No, The Album Leaf haven't gone metal. Far from it—the San Diego-born post-rock act (which still has ties to the city, despite LaValle roaming to cities as far as Reykjavik) is as gorgeous and glorious as they've ever sounded, their new album Between Waves showcasing a synth-driven sound that's not too far off from what like-minded Glaswegians Mogwai have recorded in recent years. Yet it's not all that strange for Relapse, given that in recent years the label's signed acts such as space-age prog-disco act Zombi and eerie synthwave act SURVIVE, whose Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein composed the music for Netflix's Stranger Things.
With Between Waves, however, The Album Leaf continue to progress into interesting and previously unexplored areas. Where once the band was defined by the sound of warmly beautiful Rhodes piano (and tracks like "Back from the Start" still are), this album offers a broader and darker array of sounds, which is a welcome change if sometimes a subtle one. The echoing electronic drums of "Wandering Still" are robotic and ominous, with an aesthetic that recalls some of the weirder moments on Brian Eno and David Byrne's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Similarly, there's a futuristic pulse to "Never Far," which is one of the only tracks to feature vocals. It's the most The Album Leaf has ever sounded like Radiohead.
Between Waves is a step forward for The Album Leaf, if not quite the dramatic surprise an association with Relapse might have suggested. But that also suggests Relapse is stepping outside of its comfort zone as well. There's no reason why dreamy post-rock artists and metalheads can't live together in harmony.