LEAVES – We Are Shadows (2009)

Leaves - We Are Shadows I’m always a little surprised how many bands upstage Coldplay at their own game. Doves did it this year with the wonderful Kingdom of Rust (an album that I’m enjoying more and more with each listen). As I’ve mentioned before (see above link), Ours did it last year with Mercy (Dancing For The Death of An imaginary Enemy). But there’s one band I mentioned in passing in my Doves review who really put the Brits from Coldplay to shame: Leaves, a little-known but incredibly talented group from Iceland. When Leaves released The Angela Test in the autumn of 2005, there was little reason left for anyone to listen to Coldplay’s X&Y, but because the band didn’t A) have any decent US distribution (The Angela Test was and currently is import-only) and B) receive any Stateside press due to A), X&Y remained on the charts while Leaves, despite their musical superiority, remained in obscurity.

Unfortunately, that’s not likely to change, as their new album, We Are Shadows, is currently available only through their Icelandic label’s webstore. However, if you’re willing to take the time to procure the album, you’ll be rewarded tenfold – We Are Shadows edges out The Angela Test on every level, making it the band’s strongest effort to date – it’s a great mix of deftly-executed alt-rock and that unique awe that music from Iceland tends to stir in the listener when it’s at its best (if you’re a fan of Sigur Rós or múm, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about).

Leaves demonstrate here a remarkable ability to create lush and spacious ballads (Kingdom Come), gloriously up-tempo rock songs (All The Streets Are Gold) and captivating ambient passages (the beautifully arresting Motion), and to make them all sound as though they’re a part of a cohesive whole. None of these contrasting styles sound out of place, and absorbing it all as an album only makes all the songs seem stronger. With Coldplay, there’s never any need to listen to any of their albums in one sitting (though that may change if their relationship with Brian Eno continues). A single here, a ballad there, and you’re good. The difference with Leaves (and with We Are Shadows, specifically), is that it’s hard not to take in the album as a whole. Hitting stop midway through…well, it just feels wrong.

Together with Kingdom of Rust, We Are Shadows proves that, if nothing else, Coldplay don’t own the sound that that got them to the top of the charts. Perhaps they never did. And really, I’m fine with that. You can’t own a sound, but you can always aim to perfect it. Leaves seem destined to do the latter, and I couldn’t be happier.

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