Album Review: The Avalanches - 'Wildflower'

Darcy Coombs


Back in the year 2000, Australia took home 16 Gold Medals at the Sydney Olympic Games, NSYNC’s track ‘Bye, Bye, Bye’ spent five weeks atop the ARIA music charts and John Howard was into his 5th year as Australia’s Prime Minister.

Amongst all of this, a Melbourne-based electronic outfit known as The Avalanches released their debut LP Since I Left You, an album riddled with approximately 5000 samples pieced together to create music that was described by the band as a “collaging.” The sound itself was completely unique, focusing heavily on capturing the intricacies of emotion rather than the ‘dancey’ element associated with electronic music.

Sixteen years on, Since I Left You maintains its relevance in the modern musical world, as sampling gradually became a standard practise throughout the rest of the naughties and beyond 2010. It is identified as one of the most important electronic albums worldwide and is argued as one of the best Australian albums of the millennium so far.

So finally, after a decade and a half of teasing collaborations, four new Prime Ministers and the rise and fall of Skrillex-inspired Dubstep, The Avalanches have released their follow-up record, Wildflower.

The group, now comprising of only Robbie Chater, Tony Di Blasi and James De La Cruz, kick the record off with the 15 second intro, ‘The Leaves were Falling’, which then leads into the second track ‘Because I’m Me’. The track plays out as an uncanny resemblance to The Jackson Five with its playful brass instrumentation, sounds of laughter and fantastically energetic verses from Bronx Hip Hop duo Camp Lo. It's an imaginary way to kick off the record and aptly displays The Avalanches as we always remembered.

‘Because I’m Me’ is followed by the now well-worn ‘Frankie Sinatra’, the lead single from the record. The track features both Danny Brown and MF Doom, with the former bringing in two verses, and somehow, also features a cameo of ‘My Favourite Things’ from the Sound of Music. It is by far the most verse-chorus track The Avalanches have ever given us and whilst the track didn’t appeal to me as a stand-alone single upon its initial release, I knew the album would surround it with further context. Both Brown, and the much less prominent Doom, capture the mischievousness and chaos within the instrumentation and feed off of it, striking a fine balance between each other’s respective inputs.

The Party-machen continues with the undeniably French house-influenced ‘Subways’ and ‘Going Home’. The childish, pitch-shifted calls of “I ain’t in no hurry” blithely compliment the precise synth lines and keys, whilst the repeating Chandra sample reminds us of what goes on in a subway. ‘Going Home’ then utilizes much of the same material sampled in Subways but is exposed to heavy filtering and key changes.

These dancey cuts bring a certain intangible density that focuses more on mood than jacking beats, a common feature that The Avalanches have kept in their arsenal all this time. 

The record changes in its direction and attitude for a brief moment, becoming far more dreamy and driven by atmosphere and the strength of the melodies. Toro Y Moi is the next guest to contribute, lending vocals and instrumentation on the somewhat psychedelic ‘If I were a Folkstar’. It then leads into the hazy and reverse-looped ‘Colours’. The marriage of sounds lends itself to unmistakeable inspiration form the Beatles and the Beach Boys, providing nostalgic thoughts in droves. The same can be said regarding the feel-good jam, ‘Harmony’ which holds the middle ground of the record.

Many of the transitions between the tracks and interludes play out like scene changes in a musical, with rounds of applause, cheering and fragmented storylines glued in between. Nowhere is this more evident than on the interlude ‘Zap!’ which provides a fantastic Segway into the entirely light-hearted ‘Noisey Eater’ featuring rapper Biz Markie. It can only be described as the sonic representation of music from a Disney animation, with its over-the-top munching sounds and Markie thinking about what to eat for breakfast and lunch.

It’s completely ridiculous and has no right to work as well as it does.

From this point on, Wildflower takes on a completely new direction, slowing in mood and tempo, exemplified on tracks like ‘Park Music’ and ‘Livin’ Underwater (Is Something Wild)’. The gypsy-gospel sounds that fall onto ‘The Wozard of Iz’ are a standout on the second half of the record, again featuring a punchy verse from Danny Brown.

The next few tracks, however, tend to fall into the background and lose direction within one another. This is exemplified on the repetitive ‘Sunshine’, despite having stunning string instrumentation.    

With that, the chaos continues right up until the very last moment of the album. The penultimate track ‘Stepkids’ features gorgeous, muddled vocals from Royal Trux’s Jennifer Herrema surrounded by a modulated synth-line, piano, strings and plucked-guitars. Personally, the album could have been brilliantly finished at this point, but it’s not like The Avalanches to be in any way predictable. Instead, they choose to close with ‘Saturday Night Inside Out’ a tip-of-the-hat to shoegazing, with modulated harmonies from Father John Misty and poetry from David Berman. The words of Berman are guarded but give just enough away to create an extremely personal finish to Wildflower.  

In this hour-long sophomore LP, The Avalanches display their insatiable appetite for capturing a moment in time. The songs that land on this album give off the perception that they have just always existed, without instrumentation or any notion of song writing.

In some ways, they have.

The constituents of each track are immortal snippets of musical history that have been reinterpreted into cooperating with one another, each holding their own stand alone significance.

Even the guest appearances have the sonic quality of having survived in a dusty crate for 40 years, only to be pulled out to serve the sole purpose of furthering the density of emotions that The Avalanches can provide us with.  

The allure and mystique surrounding their impending return is inextricably linked with the feelings exemplified in their music. The importance of reminiscing on any kind of memory in day-to-day life serves as The Avalanches’ strongest tool.

After 16 years, Wildflower provides us with the simple happy-sad nostalgia that we continuously crave.

It reminds us of memories we had, we wish we had and will have.


9/10

 

 

Darcy Coombs hides behind his computer as the beat scribe for his band Otious. You'll find him voicing his opinions in 'Read'. He also hasn't grown a millimetre since he was 14.