San Diego isn't known for deep thoughts. Touching down on its skyscraper-surrounded airstrip, any Joe or Jane could assume that the lines of pristine sailboats, the piles of sand and the lines of palm trees are the whole of the region's substance. It's a sad state of affairs, really, if you're the brooding type. When you get 300 days of 72-degree weather a year, depression, or even productive artistic murkiness, is not allowed.
So welling up beneath the pristine San Diego pop surface occupied by Jewel and Blink-182 is guilt and anger and artistic brooding and the kind of risk-taking brought on by feelings of isolation and indifference. It's not acceptable to feel gloomy in California, but damned if suppression doesn't eventually explode into tiny bits of artistic splendor.
Jimmy LaValle has probably learned how to control these explosions by now, judging by his recent neo-instrumental masterpiece. He's a gloomy-looking dude shuffling through San Diego's midtown on some evenings. He's a gliding, almost mythical figure in the San Diego scene, a musical messiah who's validated quiet music and the people that make it. Unlike most of the strutting, glamour-shot musicians surrounding him, LaValle does not make the scene. He couldn't be its center if he tried. But luck and success (and Sub Pop Records) have befallen him, and now pop meets depression meets melody meets musical perfection thanks to his new record, In a Safe Place. All via San Diego ... and then via Iceland.
LaValle knows that his liaison with Iceland's Sigur Rós essentially the übersuccessful version of LaValle's own production, The Album Leaf elevates In a Safe Place to an indie-pop pedestal. Sure, the delicate, dreamy rock tunes that LaValle orchestrated in Tristeza and The Black Heart Procession were progressive and contemplative in wonderful ways, but neither mines the depths of soul-splitting, sun-drenched San Diego melancholy better than TAL does.
While San Diego repressed the very substance of LaValle's profundity, recording this disc in Iceland seems to have validated his feelings of despair for every other dismal schmuck in America. LaValle lopes along at a friendly musical gait, inviting in the hypnotic texture of a vast orchestra. Maybe a work so complex and emotionally intricate could never truly call San Diego home. Or maybe it's the only place something so complicated could ever emerge.