So, um, when did the Album Leaf become so popular? I’m not trying to say that Jimmy LaValle and Co. don’t deserve it because their show was tremendous, and as someone who had a passing interest in their music, it inspired me to listen a little closer. But I was not expecting a sellout with upward of about 300 people at the Rhythm Room.
No doubt the Album Leaf’s presence on Sub Pop helps. Although maybe nothing benefits an indie artist more these days it seems than having music featured on The O.C., which LaValle’s was from his previous album, In a Safe Place. (In a slight coincidence, the under-21 area, conveniently sectioned off right next to the merch table, was crammed.) As cranky over-21ers, we settled in ever so uncomfortably right next to the bar. From there, it was a bit difficult to see a seated LaValle play his various keyboards and electronic toys, although the atmospheric mood of his music – even live with the band in front of you – asks more of your auditory senses than visual.
Perhaps compensating for that, the band – four guys in all – plays almost in time with a video companion, a different visual theme for each song. A makeshift movie screen behind the band projects images that are artsy and abstract – a woman painting her fingernails, a black and white Western, kaleidoscope-like color effects. Most of it seems in time to the music, which suggests some sort of choreography and careful thought and not just some slapdash set list thrown together in the tour van five minutes before the gig. I imagine it to be – on a much smaller scale, of course – similar to the effect Pink Floyd was after. In a way, because the Album Leaf’s music is mostly instrumental, the images almost give the music a soundtrack, some texture or context for which the fans can write their own words.
My wife, who never lets me slip, brought to my attention that I wasn’t exactly fond of Ratatat’s live show about a month earlier, noting in part my lukewarm tastes toward instrumental bands heavy, so what’s the difference here? Good question. The Album Leaf offers music a little more rich and dense; the live show was, for me anyway, thought-provoking. Ratatat, if we’re comparing (perhaps unfairly), came off a little self-absorbed; I don’t really get anything out of it other than what’s on the surface, which is electronic dance music. I’m not putting LaValle on a pedestal here, but I feel like I could explore his instrumental work more – the shape of it, the composition, the instruments – than with Ratatat.
Speaking of instrumental groups, one of the openers was the Lymbyc System, a duo which, unbeknownst to me, is from right here in Phoenix. The group is signed to Mush Records, a label that boasts a roster of pretty great experimental-type hip-hop acts as well (Busdriver, Daedelus, etc.). Apparently, I need to pay more attention because the Lymbyc System is opening for the Album Leaf this entire tour, which makes sense given the Lymbyc System’s big, synth-driven soundscapes.
(Final note: We showed up late, so we caught only two songs by locals Colorstore, about which I’ve heard nothing but good things. I bought a CD and plan to discuss them soon.)