James LaValle is a busy man. In addition to being the main person behind The Album Leaf, he's a member of the band Tristeza, and has performed as a member of the Locust, GoGoGo Airheart, and The Black Heart Procession. A varied palette, to be sure, and in addition to those groups, LaValle teamed up with members of Sigur Ros on his previous album In A Safe Place, recording with the group in their Iceland studio and featuring singer Jon Birgisson on several tracks.
After the success of his previous album and over a year of constant touring (both with his own project and the aforementioned gigs), LaValle was able to seclude himself a bit to create his newest album, jumping between a friends log cabin studio and his own apartment for writing and recording. The result is Into The Blue Again, and if you've heard his work to date, it will be very familiar sounding as programmed and live beats accompany airy synth layers and buzzy keyboards while organs swirl and vocals inhabit roughly half the songs on the album.
The biggest problem with this newest release is that it sounds like such a retread of his past work that it's hard to get too thrilled with much of anything on the album. It's lush and pretty in places, but in terms his Album Leaf project, LaValle definitely has set of boundaries that he works within, and without any guess appearances or outside influences, it falls back into familiar territory more often than not. After the completely forgettable instrumental opener of "The Light," the disc chugs through several mid-tempo vocal tracks that could easily be born of the same fabric as sleepy vocals whisper monotonous lines over dense and milky layers of synths while watered-down beats keep time underneath.
It doesn't get much better with "Red-Eye," a seven-minute instrumental track that brings together programmed beats, more stately synths and even some string flourishes. Even during the tracks peak moments, it sounds little more dramatic than the backing music for some sort of teen drama. That last line might seem like a cheap shot since several Album Leaf tracks have been used in shows like The O.C., but the fact remains that Into The Blue Again is easily the most plain-sounding album that LaValle has released to date as track after track just sort of swirls into similar-sounding pools of electric piano, pitter-patter beats, and atmospheric clouds. Given the other groups he plays with, it's fair to say that The Album Leaf is probably his "come down" project, but it's too bad it has to come down so far.