There are fewer locales more awe-inspiring than the frigid recesses of Iceland's Western coast-a calm, glacial landscape at the polar opposite of Jimmy LaValle's sunny, bustling California. Mosfellsbaer, Iceland and its surrounding areas are host to one of the world's most secluded and spotlighted meccas of creativity-few outsiders are invited in. LaValle, a classically-trained and prolific pianist and musician whose ambitious projects have involved San Diego's seminal ambient piano-rock outfit Tristeza, noise punks The Locust, the beat-driven GoGoGo Airheart and the gloomy, brooding epic-core group, Black Heart Procession, is one of the lucky elite.
LaValle has released critically-acclaimed solo work as the Album Leaf (the name comes from a Chopin piece) since 1999's mellow An Orchestrated Rise to Fall (Linkwork). The releases that followed bubble with moody, contemplative slow builds and Brian Eno-inspired compositional atmospherics. Structural drum and bass undertones ground and direct dreamscapes that are painted with varieties of organic instruments, making for sonic journeys that are as whimsical as they are epic. During the realization of 2003's Lifetime or More (Arena Rock) and Seal Beach (Acuarela) EPs, he prepared himself to take on a new direction by founding his rich, textural documents on minimalist beats. At the time of 2003's recording sessions, however, nothing could have prepared LaValle for the experience he had overseas.
"It was a constant invite-they kept asking me," says LaValle, who first befriended Icelandic sensations Sigur Ros on their first U.S. tour and eventually began occasionally joining the group onstage several tours later. Along with Sigur Ros, members of Amina (Sigur Ros' string section) beckoned LaValle northward until he gave in. "There was this crazy rolling green countryside with horses and ponds; it was really surreal. I felt like I was on Mars," he chuckled warmly. Outside of the hustling, bustling confines of his previous environment, LaValle realized that he was in a profoundly different mental space-one that would deeply change the very nature of his compositions: he was In a Safe Place.
"I've always felt that the music I make is perfect for that kind of (Icelandic) setting," he explains. Inside Sundlaugin (the name of the studio means "swimming pool" in Icelandic) and with the help of his hosts, including members of Sigur Ros, Maria Huld Markan of Amina, Pall Jenkins of the Black Heart Procession, and Gyda Valtysdottir (Cellist, Formerly of Mum) LaValle was able to craft an album that ventures into new, at times beat-intensive, territory. Chillingly delicate and more pop-based than ever before, In a Safe Place masterfully negotiates the spaces between minimal electronic music and melancholy instrumental neo-rock. The inclusion of vocals from The Black Heart Procession's Pall Jenkins, Sigur Ros' Jon Thor Birgisson, and LaValle himself is one of the striking results from this newly collaborative process. "If I wasn't in that environment, I sure wouldn't have sung," he marvels. We're glad he did, and you will be, too. - http://www.albumleaf.com