Release Date: Jul 8, 2016
Record label: Astralwerks
Genre(s): Electronic, Rap, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Club/Dance, Alternative Dance, Funky Breaks
How do you follow-up a debut album nearly universally hailed as a modern classic? For many years it looked like we’d never find out, at least in the case of the Avalanches. Since I Left You, the Australian band’s 2000 debut, wasn’t a huge seller at the time of its release, but its reputation has ballooned over the years and it’s now widely hailed as a masterpiece of sonic invention, wit, and whimsical nostalgia. A dizzying maze of countless samples from an endlessly diverse array of source material expertly welded together into a kaleidoscopic electro-pop dreamscape, Since I Left You is a genre unto itself.
To listen to the Avalanches is to wrestle with time. The sample-rich music made by this group of Australian DJs makes you think about where its pieces come from, what those fragments meant to you then, and what they mean to you embedded into the group's finished songs. There’s nostalgia and loss ingrained in every bar, and you can sense the erratic movement of past, present, and future from the first listen.
Sixteen years. Sixteen. But that’s just a number: running through just a few of the things that have happened - 9/11, Iraq, George W. Bush, world recession, Kanye, iTunes, The Lord Of The Rings films, streaming, Breaking Bad, Facebook, the wholesale collapse of our political system - in the time since Since I Left You’s hazy blur is as sobering as listening to it is intoxicating.
There won’t be a 2016 album with a more exuberant opening than the Avalanches’ Wildflower. On the opening cut, “Because I’m Me,” a dusty recording of a child crooning for a lost love (borrowed from a 1959 recording of 11- and 12-year-old schoolchildren) blares out over a muffled horn fanfare. The orchestral theme fades in like a busted radio finding its dial, or like daylight breaking in through night.
Some scoffed, believe it or not, when the tragically defunct Cokemachineglow, in ranking the greatest albums of the 2000s, put the Avalanches’ Since I Left You square at #1. “An album from 2000 can be the Album of the 2000s because it is the future built of the past,” wrote Mark Abraham. “I mean, repetition is what repenting is, right? Since I Left You is like a millennial rosary chain, a history textbook with no course to assess you, ideas refashioned to a collage that is blurred enough that it loses any sense of collageness.” Yet for all the hype that surrounded Wildflower, the Australian DJs’ too-long-awaited followup to that iconic disc, casual observers may have wondered what all the fuss was about.
It's been sixteen years since The Avalanches released Since I Left You and for a long time the notion of a follow-up has seemed like nothing but a cruel joke but after the delays, the divisive live shows and the suitably weird lead single, a follow-up has arrived. Wildflower is a psychedelic sonic trip that takes in hip-hop, oddball pop, funk, soul and disco along the way. Much like its predecessor, songs flow from one to the next, the effect being like a spectre floating from one party to the next, different songs bleeding into each other along the way.
A decade and a half is a very, very big gap to have between your first and second album, but then, some things are worth the wait. Slowed to a snail's pace by the tedious clearing and re-clearing of samples, a three-year bout of an auto-immune disease, dead-end side projects and general disillusion on the part of the group themselves, the Avalanches' Wildflower has been one of modern music's greatest teases. In 2005 it was a "work in progress"; in 2007 there were over 40 tracks recorded; in 2012, guest collaborators confirmed their involvement — but only now, in 2016, have the Avalanches managed to drag their long-awaited opus out of the shadows to let it shine.
Sixteen years on from their hit Since I Left You, Australian plunderphonics crew the Avalanches have returned with what might turn out to be the feelgood album of the summer. This is a season in sore need of tracks packed with vintage sunshine and “ethereal cereal”. The group’s comeback has not exactly run smoothly. Wildflower was supposed to include ambitious animations (the funding didn’t work out).
It's hard to think of something that has fallen so far out of fashion as turntablism. The practice is now at best a cultural artefact with increasingly niche interest groups. And yet turntablism's inherent musical qualities have become ubiquitous to the point of being implicit. Unbridled sampling, grab-bag nostalgia, mashups, audio manipulation, deep record digging, sly self-referencing—any to all of the pillars of a once underground community are now standards of popular music.
The Avalanches released their only album ‘Since I Left You’ sixteen years ago, and in that time, nothing has managed to sound quite like it. The album carved the Australian group a niche all of their own making, seemingly all corners of the electronic music sphere incorporated into the sound, influencing thousands moving forward. ‘Wildflower”s twenty-one(!) song tracklist can be forgiven due to the fact that it took almost as many years to complete, with the band recently revealing how single ‘Colours’ alone went through “over a hundred edits”.
After 16 years away, Melbourne crate-diggers the Avalanches return sounding, well, pretty much like they did before. The band are keen to point out that they have “moved on” sonically from their 2000 debut Since I Left You – and indeed, there are guest spots here for the likes of Danny Brown and Father John Misty. But the results are largely familiar: a surf through various sun-bleached genres that is by turns meditative, psychedelic and transcendent, while occasionally landing on a patience-testing novelty number.
So many ways to counter the sophomore slump, and the Avalanches chose the most difficult one. It didn’t have to be like this. The time-release fizz of their universally lauded debut LP, Since I Left You — released in the group’s native Australia in 2000, then everywhere else once all the samples cleared the following year — could have nucleated in brains for… well, who knows how long? The album practically made its own mist.
Though the Avalanches's precise sampling of music and film clips can create a sound detached from place and time, Wildflower comes with a reminder that a great deal of time has indeed passed since their 2000 debut, Since I Left You. The album also comes with an expectation that the group will recreate their earlier work's leftfield catchiness while at the same time display some kind of creative growth. And especially when so many artists through so many platforms are dealing in instant gratification, Wildflower faces an inevitable truth: that the longer people wait for an album, the more immediate and brilliant they expect it to be.
For a chapter of his 2002 personal-essay collection Songbook, the author Nick Hornby tries to make sense of “Frontier Psychiatrist”, the quintessential track by the Avalanches. “Just as robots cannot feel love,” he inhales, “music that has been produced from this number of samples cannot yet induce any recognition of mood in the listener. ” He keeps spinning: “Maybe we’ll become used to it, and learn how to translate and interpret songs drawn from a bewildering number of sources; or maybe collagistes like the Avalanches will be able to refine their art, and make the music they make fit the moods we know.
In the 15-plus years since they released their masterpiece of sample-based electronica, Since I Left You, the Avalanches have been legendary ghosts kept alive by hopes, rumors, and memories of greatness compounded by a lack of anyone coming along to fill their shoes. With the release of 2016's Wildflower, the group stages a comeback that sadly falls short of expectations, but still ends up being a pretty good album anyway. In fact, if it hadn't been made by the Avalanches, it may even be a great album.
Surely at this stage of late rock music capitalism that we find ourselves in, we’re all familiar with the notion of the reunion. Whether they arrive out of resistance to the encroaching boredom of retirement or from the irresistible allure of sweet, sweet cash, hearing the news that a group I once loved will be forging ahead again often inspires both excitement and worry. Reunions come in many varieties: on the traditional end, you have your bands from 30+ years ago coming to reassume a throne that was already theirs to begin with.
It's curious that a genre built from recorded artifacts has become one itself: the sample-based plunderphonics of The Avalanches, Fatboy Slim, DJ Shadow and others started doing the dinosaur around the turn of the 21st-century, when copyright lawyers began putting in serious overtime. Maybe that's why it took this Australian crew 16 years to finish the follow-up to Since I Left You, which rivals Shadow's ...Endtroducing as the single greatest LP-length creation in the history of groove-mosaics. In any case, it's a welcome return.
As music became increasingly and often freely accessible, sample permissions grew trickier and costlier to clear. By academics Kembrew McLeod and Peter DiCola’s calculations, Beastie Boys’ sample-loaded Paul’s Boutique would lose 20 million dollars if it were released today. In their early years, the alt-rock group Therapy? included snippets of film dialogue in much of their music but they daren’t do that these days through fear of expenses and lawsuits.
16 years (count 'em!) since their sample-structured neon masterpiece Since I Left You – Paul's Boutique as filtered through big beat and the Cartoon Network – The Avalanches unexpectedly re-emerge. Rather than overthink their place in 2016's brave new world, instead the Melbourne collective aim to get us out of our minds: a colourfully woozy effort, Wildflower is equally in thrall to daisy age hip-hop and ornate psychedelia. There are obvious highlights: the radio-singalong effects on Because I'm Me; Biz Markie's wilfully silly turn on The Noisy Eater; Danny Brown's mid-song rap amidst The Wozard of Iz's pastoral grooves.
Did we ever really believe there would be another Avalanches album? It’s not only that it’s been 16 years since the release of Since I Left You, or that the group have reportedly been working on something since at least 2005, or the repeated promises of release dates that came and went with nothing. Did we ever really believe they would even attempt another such masterwork of crate digging and sampling? But here we are now with Wildflower, the record that took two years longer to finish than Chinese Democracy, six years fewer than m b v, and which hasn’t even approached Smile — the record that it’s supposedly modelled on — in terms of being long-lost. What’s complicated about a band taking such a long hiatus when they’ve only released one full length is that there exists in our minds only one version of the artists.
For reasons altogether too complicated to think about for longer than two or three minutes, referring to Wildflower as the Avalanches’ sophomore LP feels a bit like an insult to the Avalanches. Granted, it’s been 16 years since debut LP Since I Left You came out. That’s about 14 years longer than most artists wait to drop a follow-up, so to feel that way isn’t completely incomprehensible.
Whatever you might think about sampling others’ music rather than making your own, The Avalanches’ Since I Left You is arguably the apex of the art form/act of wanton criminality. The Australian group’s 2000 debut made even the expertly crate-digging DJ Shadow look like a bored Sam Goody browser. Its surgical extractions on thousands of vinyl castaways composed a monster headphone rave by shredding the kind of soul, disco, easy listening, and long-forgotten comedy records you can find nicotine-stained copies of crowding used bins everywhere.
This past month was a generally slow one in terms of album releases, and yet Carl and I were able to find some true gems that will surely stick with us through the entire year. I was downright elated every time I spun the rather joyful Wildflower, The Avalanches comeback statement, while Carl ….
It’s been 16 years since Melbourne’s Avalanches released their sampledelic classic Since I Left You, and listening to the follow-up feels like entering a time warp to 2001. Guest features by current artists like Danny Brown, Rye Rye, Father John Misty and Ariel Pink aside, Wildflower’s collage of nostalgic samples and sounds feels out of time and far removed from the pop music trends of today. As on the previous Avalanches album, members Robbie Chater, James Dela Cruz and Tony Di Blasi have stitched music and audio samples – obscure and well known – together with orchestral arrangements and original vocals into a continuous stream of music that, this time around, takes listeners on an acid trip through the swirling sensations of the Summer of Love.
Reception for The Avalanches' debut album Since I Left You – 16 whole years ago, as no one ever tires of pointing out – was divided between those who recognised it as the work of cross-stitching sampladelic genius it most certainly was and those who heard 'Frontier Psychiatrist', a red herring only linked to the rest of the album by thematic horse neighs, and decided, well, one Bentley Rhythm Ace was probably enough. The former have been justified by sheer weight of anticipation for Wildflower. There's no palpable sense anyone's holding out for a new Wiseguys album.
"Wildflower," the new album from the Avalanches, covers a lot of the same sonic landscape as the band's 2000 debut. The Avalanches debuted in 2000 by organizing a dense, dizzying jigsaw puzzle of seemingly unrelated electronic samples into one of the defining albums of recent decades, "Since I Left You." It was in many ways an Australian counterpart to the 1996 sample-tastic debut by DJ Shadow, "Endtroducing," a richly colored daydream in response to Shadow's dark interior journey. "Wildflower" (Modular/Astralwerks) marks the return of co-founders Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi, and the debut's mix of childlike wonderment remains intact.
And then there’s ‘Frankie Sinatra’. Oh, ‘Frankie Sinatra’. Its oompah-calypso lurch and brain-glitch hook are not quite as punchable as ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ – the whinny of horses is still annoying 16 years on – but it’s a close thing. Amid the mire, though, is the jewel of Detroit rapper Danny Brown’s guest verse, his wired weirdness adding much-needed depth, energy and shade.