In its serene, melancholic sweep, there’s a sense of a long journey undertaken.
David Stubbs 2010
Since founding the group in 1998 in San Diego California, Jimmy LaValle has travelled some way, from lo-fi, improvised, home-recorded beginnings to the sleekly crafted orchestration of A Chorus of Storytellers. There is, in its overall serene, melancholic sweep, a sense of a long journey undertaken, whose good outcome is assured and yet which is tinged throughout with the vague sadness that accompanies any such odyssey – the loss of that which is left behind, as well as the knowledge that arrival will bring the process of travelling to an end.
There is a subtle difference in the tan and inflexion of this, their fifth album and their first since 2006. It was recorded in Seattle but remixed in Iceland by Jón Birgisson of Sigur Rós and seems to bear the hallmarks of that migration. Moreover, rather than LaValle playing all the instruments himself as he usually does, he has involved all the members of his touring group, including multi-instrumentalist Matthew Resovich, guitarist Drew Andrews, bassist Luis Hermosillo and an Icelandic horn section, whose presence does indeed fill out this storytelling chorus.
On early tracks like Blank Pages, the mood is at once folkish and yet futuristic also – the vast, empty uncertainty of the post-rock world spread out yonder before us. However, as the album progresses, with its mix of violins, guitar, synths and fitful percussion, a paradoxical mood and feel is established – desolate yet comforting, glacial yet warm, remote yet intimate, never more so than on Summer Fog. At times, you're reminded of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra in their more ruminative moments. Occasionally, as with the scratchy backbeat of Within Dreams, or the rocky, percussive left turn taken on We Are, the trajectory of the album is temporarily disrupted – which is just as well, because if there's a danger about The Album Leaf, it's that their gentle strains can come across as unassuming and incidental.
However, with vocal contributions from The Black Heart Procession's Pall Jenkins and remixer Birgisson, A Chorus of Storytellers rises nicely to its resolution, with Almost There and Tied Knots bringing together all the strands, energy and personnel that make up the album to a quietly affirmative conclusion.