Words by Grey Malkin
Library Music: Volume One is a welcome compilation from North London’s The Leaf Library, gathering together fourteen years’ worth of singles, compilation tracks and one offs, essentially giving these tracks a permanent, proper home and allowing listeners to delve into a stylistically more varied and deeply fascinating ‘other’ side of the band. Songs that have been, up until now, scattered across releases by esteemed labels and imprints such as Modern Aviation and Second Language fill an impressive sixteen song double album that showcases a number of different musical facets or avenues, as the band themselves reflect; ‘We’ve always felt a lot more relaxed and freer making one off things for people – it’s a chance to try things that might otherwise be daunting on a full record’. What is also impressive is the cohesiveness that is still achieved, the band’s personal vision and sound bleeds through both pleasingly and recognisably throughout, despite the varied wardrobe or costumes that the songs demand. The Leaf Library’s previous full-length albums (Daylight Versions, About Minerals and The World Is A Bell) offered masterclasses in nuanced, dreamy and electronic pop, evidencing an easy sense of melody as well as demonstrating a willingness to experiment and expand songs to lengthier and more widescreen limits. Library Music: Volume One sets a new challenge and parameter, given the nature of the songs and what they were written for, to narrow or squeeze this creative impulse into, often, a three-minute track.
The album opens with the perfect electronic chamber pop of ‘Agnes In The Square’, shimmering synths propelling forwards and blending seamlessly with Kate Gibson’s crystalline vocals in a track that Ladytron would be delighted to have in their oeuvre. Immediately shifting style, the frenetic and shoegaze tinged ‘Goodbye Four Walls’ offers some Loveless-like harmonies framed by choppy, dynamic guitar and muscular bass, and is a thrilling and exhilarating ride. That same bass underpins the more reflective shimmer of ‘City in Reverse’, warm, chiming drones creating a spectral and magical dreamscape that prefers to drift rather than be earthbound. By contrast ‘Diagram Loop’ enters on squelchy beats and resonating bells, as The Leaf Library’s more experimental and minimal side is allowed to dominate to hugely atmospheric effect (and which also provides a spellbinding finale). ‘The Greater Good’ takes a Neu-style motorik beat and effortlessly welds a beautifully wrought slice of 60’s pop alongside, whilst ‘A Stone in Water’s contemplative melancholy is held aloft on a bed of insistent percussion, languid saxophone and reverberating strings. At times reminiscent of Broadcast (Melinda Bronstein’s vocals inhabit the same hypnotic, passive yet expressive zone as the much-missed Trish Keenan’s), The Leaf Library’s palette is a much wider one. For example, ‘Architect of The Moon’ is a skeletal, mournful piece of mood music that incorporates both musique concrete and ambient textures, whilst ‘Tired Ghost’ offers a dynamic, complex and exhilarating electronic ballad overlaid by cascading beats and icy drones. Despite this diversity, it feels clear that each song is the work of The Leaf Library; Gibson’s vocals are a mainstay and anchor, tinged with an ever-present beautiful sadness.
‘The Still Point’, with its glockenspiel melody and gossamer guitar work, is a delicate gem that haunts long after the song has finished, and there is a strong sense of just how good The Leaf Library are at this; there may well be the aforementioned experimentation, and there are certainly some unusual and fascinating directions taken musically, but these are all pretty much perfect pop songs. This also helps the album sit as a complete whole or as piece of work, that the songwriting and emotive impact of these tracks shines brightly and without fail, regardless of musical decisions. Next, ‘Wave of Translation’ is a frozen landscape of a song, yet filled with tiny details and sweeping, ghost infused piano lines, something that would not be out of place on Eno’s On Land. This is then followed by the wide eyed and truly lovely ‘Badminton House’, with its late summer longing and sense of wistfulness. ‘Tranquillity Bass’ is a return to classic pop harmonies and analogue synth sounds, and in a fairer world would be a huge hit; the point where the song elevates on an incoming melody line during the latter part of the track genuinely raises hairs on the back of the neck of the listener. The album closes with the ominous and cavernous drones of ‘A Gap In The Trees’, which demands to be placed or used as a soundtrack to a film, with atmosphere leaking from the rasping synths and ever layering strings.
Often compilations can be stop-gaps whilst artists catch breath or try to drum up inspiration; they can sometimes hint at a lack of new ideas – or simply provide a closing chapter to a particular part of their career. With Library Music; Volume One however, it feels more like we have gained an entirely new piece of work, one which stands ably on its own and if anything demonstrates that, for The Leaf Library, ideas and inspiration are in abundance.
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