Ambient music can sometimes be a bit like a hot bath. Wonderful at first, but the longer you immerse yourself the greater the reluctance to step out, even when it’s getting lukewarm and you’re turning wrinkly from the dull wetness of it all. With that in mind, it seems the experimental drone of The Leaf Library’s new album is much more of an intoxicating plunge into the wintry sub-zero waters of a vast lake, one that keeps descending, drilling deep into the earth’s core.
About Minerals is about as near to an aural geology lesson as you can experience. Where their 2015 debut Daylight Versions looked toward the horizon, skyward and into the cosmos, lacing their indie-drone-pop with a certain psychedelic edge, there’s an introversion to About Minerals that oddly makes it feel more concrete. Looming into view, the murkiness of opener ‘Weather Wires’ stirring modular phrases gradually gives way to the hypnotic pulse of rugged, inorganic textures. The rhythm of these eerie, mechanical surges extends into the title track which follows. Its beats form intricate patterns like grades of metallic ore compressed into layers of stone, sometimes breaking away into rhythmic shards, crumbing under the stresses of their own construction. Everywhere on About Minerals, the use of voice is sparse but beautifully melodic, celestial even. Recalling the early releases by Jaclynn Slimm and Andrew Prinz’s Mahogany, Kate Gibson’s and Melinda Bronstein’s vocals add a gentle humanity to the abrasive, abstract musical shapes that surround them. A single, official-sounding tone resounds at points throughout the track, like an alarm or notification one might hear on a piece of sophisticated deep-sea diving equipment. A depth-marker perhaps, judging by the intensifying yet isolating, liquid suspension of ‘High light’ which ensues, signalling our bathyscaphe descent into unchartered undersea trenches.
It’s notable that field samples do a lot of the heavy emotional lifting on About Minerals; children laughing, sea waves tickling the parched stones of a shingle beach, sea bird calls entwined with sluggish footfalls on gravel, all familiar sounds yet such an alien context. The album is not entirely devoid of its own ‘bathtime and candlelight’ moments, ‘Layers Of Regret’ for example, definitely enters flotation tank mixtape territory, but it’s all done with expertise and delightful hesitation and restraint. On ‘Surface Decisions’ jazzy, atonal vocal shifts cut across the deep guitar and harmonium drones like freshwater currents meeting the sea, creating enough agitation to keep us drawn in. ‘Beach Loom’ breaks the tension, raising its head above the surface to find an indigo blue starlit canopy above, shafts of light violin bow scrapes and knocks their tender echoes simulate the glistening of the waves at night. Below, sub bass explosions create a volcanic presence, with frothy textures rising up causing new formations to appear. The incredibly subtle hair-raising guitar picking and sliding of this track carries it to the end of its epic nine minutes.
If you’re still uncertain about the premise of all this, a good entry point to the album is ‘An Edge, An Ending’. Homage to the visual poem ‘The sea is an edge and an ending’ by Lavinia Greenlaw, in which she explores her late father’s dementia. The short film deconstructs memory and time, the anchoring points for identity and relationships, and what happens when these disintegrate and break free, left to float. It’s an emotional, yet understated experience and is aptly encapsulated here by The Leaf Library in the dense, shifting patterns and lilting vocals. Closing track, ‘Blue Green Sequence’ seals its preceding wandering with a brief and simple meditation on a phasing pulse, swirling with field recordings. If abstract memories could be recorded into soundwaves, it would pretty much sound like this.
But that’s not the end.
Downloads from Bandcamp include an entire album’s worth of extra music, entitled ‘Mineral Bloom I-III’. The three tracks of gorgeously textural ambience are the album equivalent of a late night after-show party; a delight in itself but enjoyed so much more in the hazy shadows of what went before it.
‘About Minerals’ is out now, on Berlin label Inner Space Travels.