The Leaf Library - Library Music:Volume One (WIAIWYA)

The Leaf Library – Library Music:Volume One (WIAIWYA)

I have a love-hate relationship with compilation albums. Even the Alan Partridge ‘Best of the Beatles’ snobbery can’t put a dent in the joy of having all the best, or most interesting tracks in one release. But then there are the cynical money-making, album-cycle fillers, made for prime coffee table positioning, which no-one really needs in the streaming era. Rarely, though, do compilations stand on their own (The Smiths Louder Than Bombs, The Cure Standing On A Beach, Broadcast’s Work and Non Work and Memory Column: Early Works and Rarities by Mahogany immediately come to mind). When they do, they can act as a gateway for new fans to explore an artist’s previous work. The Leaf Library‘s latest release, Library Music: Volume One certainly belongs on the latter list.

Some may know the North London band by their studio albums, Daylight Versions, About Minerals and The World Is A Bell, which pluck gently at the intersecting fronds of ambient, shoegaze, drone and long-form post-rock. Library Music: Volume One, which includes 7″ singles, compilation tracks, one-offs and commissions chartering the group’s first fourteen years, is a self-contained world full of new insights into The Leaf Library’s songwriting journey. The track sequence is interesting in itself, with songs grouped by mood, not chronology. The album’s first half is a delightfully sunny nostalgic trip. Kicked off by ‘Agnes In The Square’, Kate Gibson‘s voice shimmers over a dirty Stereolab-like synth bass. ‘Goodbye Four Walls’ and ‘Walking Backwards’ are busier, guitar-driven indie singles which recall the jazzier nonchalance of early shoegaze, while ‘City In Reverse’ and ‘Soundings’ tilt like sunflowers towards a warm, folky glow (the former a real standout for its haunting dual vocals). More experimental textures are readily exposed on ‘Diagram Loops’, whose filaments crackle and pulse with increasing intensity. Another highlight, ‘The Greater Good’ is simple, but has those tiny guitar flourishes and chord transitions that give you goosebumps. Losing Places begins as a minimalist, music concrète series of loops, gradually switching on other bits of its alien machinery – whooshing pistons, chattering cogs and buzzing organs.

The second half of Library Music feels much more contemplative and nocturnal; the soundtrack for a midnight walk on the beach. ‘A Stone In The Water’ is a gorgeous lullaby with vocals by Melinda Bronstein, recalling a dialled-back Broadcast track with lilting saxophone and clarinet tickling its edges. Recorded for Modern Aviation compilation Par Avion, ‘Wave of Translation‘ sends ripples of deconstructed violin, sax, guitar and piano (all recorded separately in various homes by the band) until they converge in blissful stillness. Gibson’s yearning, languid vocal returns on ‘The Still Point’ calling far out to the horizon, while on ‘Architect Of The Moon’ she’s staring back at the earth from the chilling, echoing emptiness of an orbiting satellite. ‘Tired Ghost’ and ‘Badminton House’ create looped temporal pockets, this time via sparse synth tracks which flex and twist in response to Gibson’s words. The album closes with two more compilation tracks, ‘Tranquility Bass’ from The Moon and Back, and the remarkable aural palate cleanser ‘A Gap In The Trees’, from the now sold out Concrete Tapes Red Flag.

By the time the last, squelching, burbling, phasing synth noises of Library Music:Volume One ooze from the speakers, you might have forgotten how it all started. Such is the breadth and depth of The Leaf Library’s catalogue (a huge hint in the album title) and also the care and attention to the selection and positioning of each track. They say: “We wanted to gather all our early, scattered work before we move on to our next album, to remind ourselves (and others) of some of the poppier and less characteristic things we’ve done.” We say, they’ve achieved not just that, but a record that captures the group’s essence and character, in all its guises. Is this a ‘best of The Leaf Library’ album? No, but it might just be my favourite.

‘Library Music: Volume One’ is released on 28th October via Where It’s At Is Where You Are.


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.