A warm invite from Iceland

It was the kind of invitation commonly extended in musicians' circles: Hey, come over to my place; we'll do some recording. Jimmy LaValle, a 25-year-old San Diegan who makes ambient instrumental music as the Album Leaf, heard that offer repeatedly from his friends in Sigur Ros in the months they toured together. Finally this fall he packed -- no matter that "their place" was Sundlaugin Studio in Reykjavik, Iceland. "Iceland is kinda far out," LaValle says, "but it really was just a case of friends hanging out. I spent 10 to 12 hours a day in the studio, and they would randomly pop in.... It was a stress-free environment." What emerged from his Icelandic sessions is an album's worth of material that has piqued the interest of labels big and small.

The demo even has vocals (including a turn by Sigur Ros' Jon Thor Birgisson) on three of five tracks -- virgin territory for LaValle, whose gently cascading tunes featuring languid keyboard or acoustic guitar lines and understated electro-twitches seem to be the stuff of which soundtracks are made. "I had a job for a year doing music for commercials," LaValle says, "but I found that creating some really bad disco song was starting to weigh on my writing style." The Album Leaf's live shows are cinematic, thanks to Andrew Pates' visuals, but LaValle can envision a day when composing consumes him: "I think I'd rather be scoring or doing soundtracks than anything else."


Clevenger puts himself out there

After the demise of Permanent Press, the Los Angeles label that had released his first two records, Walter Clevenger was in a quandary -- move on to another small imprint, or dive into the business end. "I went back and forth on it," says Costa Mesa-based Clevenger, who went the do-it-yourselfer's route. He reports encouraging results since the mid-October release of the aptly named "Full Tilt & Swing," the latest by Walter Clevenger & the Dairy Kings. It's classic rock that doesn't wallow in nostalgia, or even acknowledge it, for that matter. Clevenger's voice still invites comparisons to Nick Lowe, and his rootsy songs can deliver hooks with a twang or a bang. "I really feel it's the first cohesive record I've made, rather than a bunch of songs I'd combined," he says. Clevenger's band opens for the Pernice Brothers at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Dec. 10. Then on Dec. 18, Clevenger begins a stint as host of a regular acoustic songwriter night on the third Thursday of every month at the Bamboo Terrace restaurant in Costa Mesa.

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