The Album Leaf "Seal Beach"
Originally Released: 2003
Re-issue Date: Oct 20 2017
1000 x Black LP
Brian Howard via Pitchfork (May 31 2005)
Seal Beach EP is an exercise in restful, reverent mood music, as measured and deliberate as a high-flying gull stroking through a cloudless sky. There are plenty of indie rockers thumbing spectral ambiance from their keyboards, but no one is doing it with the same level of restraint and precision as Jimmy LaValle. Nevertheless, the field is over-saturated, and it's a given that this record will strike impatient listeners as tedious. LaValle is working from a familiar palette here-- each song finds layers of wavering drone shot through with sparse yet complexly ramifying mechanical drums, long arcs of simple, chiming leads and trembling strings wafting over resonant slabs of melodic bass. Point blank, if you're not in the right headspace for this stuff, it's going to bore no matter how well done. But if you are, LaValle's spare, translucent brushstrokes seem like an elemental and ideal expression of the form.
Originally released in Spain, on Acuarela Records, in 2003, this Stateside reissue is fleshed out with new violin parts, a rare track ("For Jonathan"), and five previously unreleased live tracks with Sigur Rós sitting in, making for a whopping 10-track EP. And since the only real difference between LaValle's live and studio recordings is that the live ones have applause at the end, his elegant sonic calculus has a seamless placidity and cinematic gravity that allows for complete immersion.
The ease of immersion makes the Seal Beach EP such a lulling siren song, and this is credit to LaValle's self-control. Indie electronica has developed a familiar dynamic-- start in tranquility, then ratchet up the drums and synths in crisp shifts of intensity until the track is galloping and hiccupping like a drunken mechanical bull. LaVelle doesn't succumb to the bombastic urge, and his ephemeral webs stretch out with a serene, meditative profundity unbroken by the non-linear impulse. Nor does he feel the need to tack superfluous noises onto his pale watercolor washes, having the confidence to let the bare essentials of song stand alone, ebbing and flowing as naturally as the tide. From the flaring static, whirring drums and contrapuntal clicktrack of "Malmo", to the gently wailing violins and pirouetting synths of "Brennivin", to the briskly accruing acoustic guitar arpeggios of "One Minute", Seal Beach EP comprises a summer jam for the North Pole, and the Album Leaf continues to set the pace for those who would politely drone.