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Album Leaf Lives the Dream

LaValle sculpts ethereal soundscapes with visual impact

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You know those dreams you have after, say, too much pasta or too many hallucinogens, when you find yourself falling from some great height only to discover at the last moment that you can fucking fly, and the horizon reappears as earth and sea unfurl below like a tapestry of iridescent greens and blues? If we could program music for those dreamscapes, the Album Leaf's new record, Into the Blue Again, would make a fine soundtrack.

San Diego's Jimmy LaValle has been the man behind the Album Leaf since 1999. He's a classically trained pianist and multi-instrumentalist, a former member of instrumental adventurers Tristeza and Locust, and the current keyboardist for Black Heart Procession's haunting night-time reveries. Elements of his pedigree inform Album Leaf, but there's always been a dreamy, cinematic quality to LaValle's compositions, fit accompaniment for the film loops that often augment his full-band shows.

Nice as the visuals are, the music evokes its own settings. "Into the Sea" shimmers with the same light an ocean does at sunset, while the Tortoise-like "Red-Eye" is an after-hours walk home through deserted downtown streets. LaValle plays all the instruments, though he's accompanied to great affect on several songs by fellow Black Heart member Matt Resovich on violin. But LaValle's strengths are his melodic sense and arranging prowess. Melodies materialize from the shadows in graceful arcs, layers of keys, synths, guitars and vibes resting atop fields of processed beats and glitches, like Eno's sound sculptures run through Four Tet's computer blender.

But there's warmth to LaValle's music that make his sound much more organic than other ambient artists, including his friends in Sigur Rós, in whose studio Into the Blue Again was mixed. And beginning with 2004's In A Safe Place, LaValle even stepped up to the mike, adding another distinctly human element. On the new record, he more than carries his own on the three vocal tracks, songs with similar churning beats to Black Heart's latest, The Spell. "My biggest fear in the world is to be a lap-top band," he's said. If that's LaValle's nightmare, then Album Leaf is proof of the dream.

The Album Leaf plays the Neighborhood Theatre, Lymbyc Systym and Fence Lions open; Oct. 30 at 8 p.m.; $10; More info at www.neighborhoodtheatre.com.

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