Between Waves marks the sixth album by The Album Leaf, the solo project by Jimmy LaVelle, the off-and-on guitarist for several rock groups out of San Diego, California. As with his previous solo work, Between Waves is an ambient collection of instrumental tracks featuring traces of rock, though with more emphasis on synth, keys, and for this outing, drums. In fact very little of LaVelle’s guitar-work is on display here. This is one of the calmest and coolest of his albums yet—a relaxing soundtrack. That’s the album’s strength and weakness: it feels as though it’s the underlying half of a more complete work of art.
In his performances, The Album Leaf is typically accompanied by some sort of visual component. Projected art, film clips—whatever these components may be, they compliment the music and better round out the experience. While Between Waves’ consistent mood across its eight tracks allows the listener to settle in, you can’t help but feel there’s something missing. The earlier tracks, namely “Glimmering Lights” and “Back to the Start”, with their slow swelling and increasing complexity, almost demand some sort of imagery from the listener. I imagined trickling rays of light from one, and a rain-soaked forest from the other, but that’s me filling in the gaps. This is fine—for music to help the listener ease into their own imagination—but the parts of the album that let me down were the three vocal tracks spread throughout. I felt like the instrumentation was dialed down for these songs to allow the vocals to take the center stage, but the voice and lyrics weren’t as fantastic or evocative as I would’ve hoped. LaVelle’s lyrical imagery wasn’t the partner for the music I would have wanted.
At the same time, the latter half of the album features too many consistent beats and melodies. It’s like once the listener has been drawn in, we’re lulled by this overly ambient music, to the point where we are broken from the illusion by the sense of ‘hearing that before.’ The drumming throughout is great. Complex without being too loud or showy. It’s the melodies and electronic beats that begin to droop under their own spell.
At its worst, Between Waves is boring and underwhelming. At its best (early on), it’s a creative and complex soundtrack that demands a vivid imagination to complete it. The record is meticulous in its tone and production—cool and confident. When things don’t fall flat, this can lead to a greatly rewarding experience, but at least half of the record didn’t give me the experience I feel it gives Jimmy LaVelle. Still, it’s worth sinking a quiet afternoon into to hear and see for yourself.
review by Matthew Wardell