To be a successful musician these days, you can’t just rely on playing just one instrument; you’ve got to be a jack of all trades. Otherwise you’ve got nowhere to go. Take San Diego native Jimmy LaValle for instance. His classical background has helped him grow into a prolific pianist who plays guitar in the piano-rock outfit Tristeza, but he’s also done work for the noise-punk band the Locust, the beat-driven Gogogo Airheart and the dark and brooding melodies of the Black Heart Procession.
And he also performs as the Album Leaf, a moniker be swiped from a Chopin piece. In a Safe Place is LaValle’s third album as the Album Leaf since 1999’s An Orchestrated Rise to Fall; he released One Day I’ll Be On Time in 2001 and a few EPs last year. This time around, LaValle focuses on textured sounds rather than down-tempo beats.
In a Safe Place is remarkable not only for its songs of frail beauty and glacial textures, but also for its cast of guests. Members of Sigur Ros, Amina (Sigur Ros’ string section) and the Black Heart Procession joined the multi-instrumentalist for the three months of recording, which took place last year at Sundlaugin Studio, Sigur Ros’ studio just outside Rekyjavik, Iceland. Maria Sigfusdottir, formerly of Mum, also guests on the record. LaValle toured with Sigur Ros during their first U.S. tours, and eventually ended up joining them on stage during later tours.
The album sees LaValle take on vocal duties for the first time, while Black Heart Procession’s Pall Jenkins and Sigur Ros’ Jon Thor Birgisson take lead vocals for a number of songs. Although “Over the Pond,” which features the Icelandic guest stars, is the strongest on the album, LaValle proves throughout the rest of his album that he’s able to hold his own. The Album Leaf is pacing without falling into the trendy “chill-out” category. LaValle takes what he’s learned from playing in bands from one end of the spectrum to the other and compiles them in a quiet, melancholic beauty that strays far away from anything “safe.”