I’ve lived in San Francisco my entire adult life, and every summer I consider moving either to Southern California or the desert. I love fog, I love cool weather, but when it is grey, drizzly, and 55 degrees for weeks on end in July, it breaks your heart. I start fantasizing about being somewhere hot, where you don’t need a sweater at night, where you have to stay in the shade to avoid being roasted. All I want to do is hang out, drink Mexican beer, and listen to music like Gold Leaves’ The Ornament
Gold Leaves is the new project from Arthur & Yu’s Grant Olsen. Olsen hails from Seattle, another city that knows something about depressing summers. It was four years in the making, including an early version that was scrapped when his computer and notebooks were stolen. In the meantime, Olsen got married, traveled to South America, and watched the economy fall apart. The resulting album is both hopeful and wistful, full of nostalgic melancholy.
The album was produced by Papercuts’ Jason Quever, who is the secret ingredient to this album’s success. While I’ve found Papercuts’ music a little too ethereal for me to grab onto, Quever’s atmospheric elements are a wonderful compliment to Olsen’s strong songwriting. The result is a sonic richness that you don’t always get with singer/songwriter albums. Quever adds an element of the Beach Boys as shoegazers to Ornament
The album contains a mix of straight singer/songwriter folk, some country-tinged songs, and some tracks with classic R&B elements. The R&B elements were what won me over. The title track bounces along like a song that Phil Spector might have produced had he wound up in the Pacific Northwest. Olsen also writes convincing country songs. “Endless Dope” is another great track, and the country elements are nicely rounded out with the layers of shimmering reverb.
Perhaps the closest comparison you could make to Gold Leaves is Beach House, who share a similar sleepy, atmospheric vibe. As with Beach House, Gold Leaves’ music is sometimes so understated that it risks becoming mere background music. The combination of Olsen’s songwriting, singing, and Quever’s production make this album stand out from the crowded field of singer/songwriter projects. The Ornament is the kind of beautiful, mellow music that is perfect for a hot, lazy summer afternoon. Or a freezing coastal summer afternoon spent indoors with the heat on, wishing you were at the beach.