YOU'VE GOTTA IMAGINE the surprise. San Diego. 1997. Tristeza birthed from ex-members of The Locust. The fans come out, stoked to see "the new Locust band"--thinkin' "crazy, bitchin', brutal." The band sets up--familiar faces, familiar instruments--this is gonna totally rule. And then--what? Heavy guitars? Screaming? Try: hushed, creeping instrumentals--quiet and moody, like breeze through the palm trees of the band's sunny, beach town streets.
Tristeza's Jimmy LaValle was just a kid back then. The band's publicity photos show a soft faced, wide-eyed elf with a huge swoop of black hair and a lot of history ahead of him. Somewhere around then, the kid started writing solo stuff.
"I put out little tapes at Tristeza shows and sold them for, like, a buck," he says about the first Album Leaf recordings. The early songs were Tristeza taken to an extreme--softer, earthier.
Two years ago when Tristeza, as LaValle puts it, "fell apart," the Album Leaf drifted even further into gentle calm--the new tracks sampling rain and whispered studio talk, with no more than a sleepy Rhodes droning over the silence.
With two years of introspection behind him, the LaValle of 2004 seems considerably more assertive--his Sub Pop debut, In a Safe Place, is a dynamic affair of slow-builders chased by majestic laptop trip-outs. New sounds dominate: cello, waves of icy violin, vocals from Sigur Ros' Thor Birgisson, Black Heart Procession's Pall Jenkins, and Jimmy himself.
But LaValle's not yet settled. He says he wouldn't mind playing in a hardcore band again like his old group--as the preprogramming of Album Leaf shows takes away from the spontaneity of playing. So don't be surprised if you start hearing about "the new Album Leaf band" pretty soon. Chances are, it'll totally rule.