[Album Review/Listen] – Gold Leaves – “The Ornament”

Gold Leaves is the solo project of Grant Olsen, formerly of amiable psych-folk duo Arthur & Yu. He began work on his more conventional indie-folk solo debut, “The Ornament”, all the way back in 2007, and the intervening years have been tricky: Olsen has lost loved ones along the way and, in a less tragic but nonetheless inconvenient turn, he had his laptop and musical notes stolen long into the recording process, taking him back to square one.

So “The Ornament” has not been an easy album to make. It’s surprising, then, given the obvious struggle of the recording period, that Olsen sounds so lackadaisical on the final print. His vocals range from plain to positively disinterested at times. There are some exceptions, such as on opening track “The Silver Lining”, when the occasional backing harmony kicks in and prompts Olsen briefly but ably to mimic Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold, or on “Hanging Window” and “The Companion”, both of which showcase a fine impression of Echo & the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch. While this recourse to mimicry is frustrating, these are among the strongest tracks on the album, suggesting that Olsen is struggling to find an effective voice of his own without the help of former band buddy Sonya Westcott.

What “The Ornament” does have over Olsen’s output with Arthur & Yu is some mighty strong production courtesy of Papercuts’ Jason Quever. Where Arthur & Yu sound spacey and resolutely lo-fi, “The Ornament” is over-flowing with dense instrumentation, with some help on percussion from Ben McConnel of Beach Houses and some fine playing by backing band the Moondoggies. The result is an orchestral sound that is thick, lent a certain weight by frequent organ parts, but nonetheless clear: there are no instruments lost in the mix.

While the clean production helps the record a great deal, it carries too much weight to save the album completely. Always pleasant but never more than unremarkable, Olsen’s debut shows some promise. Still, after hearing this album, you could be forgiven for hoping that Olsen finds the time to make another record with Westcott before striking out on his own again.

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