The Avalanches – ‘Wildflower’ Album Review

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It’s an old music industry truism that you get 18 years to make your first album and 18 months including a tour to make your second. This might be true if you’re writing songs with just a drum, bass and guitar but sampled music takes time. It’s been said that The Avalanches’ seminal debut album Since I Left You contained anywhere up to a thousand samples, all gathered from nothing more than year after year of careful listening. Combine this with a case of perennial perfectionism and analysis paralysis and all of a sudden its 16 years later and they’re only just releasing their follow-up.

The Avalanches are Aussies so they danced and DJed at gorgeous beach parties where we Brits make do with the mud of music festivals or the hospitality of whichever friend had the biggest garden, but the sensations are much the same. Since I Left You captured the party years where Wildflower is the fond memory more than 15 years on, trading in some of the frenetic energy of its predecessor’s dance tracks for hip-hop. Something is inevitably lost there; unless you’re Kanye West you’re simply not going to get a rapper to do his best work on someone else’s record. Aside from the bracing opener Because I’m Me, the best features come from the brilliant Jonathan Donahue of Mercury Rev, particular in Colours and Harmony. Subway segues into Going Home and is the closest thing to the group’s old dance-funk tunes, before the album morphs into psychedelic shades of pop, dance and hip-hop and essentially stays there for its duration.

Novelty songs like Frankie Sinatra and The Noisy Eater will divide listeners to say the least but the latter contains a wonderful sample of a children’s choir rendition of Come Together and some very Beatles-esque orchestral movements that hearken back to the late Sir George Martin. It could be said that all of plunderphonics and sound collage could be traced back to Martin, and The Avalanches here pay fitting tribute. The Wozard of Iz is the best hip-hop showing by the underappreciated and unique vocal style of Danny Brown.

Unfortunately after 15 tracks the album begins to overstay its welcome. Since I Left You maintained its staying power through continuous changes of pace and attitude, a dynamism sorely lacking as Wildflower hits the high teens. Kaleidoscopic Lovers and Stepkids plod and meander but are saved in a blissful sigh of relief by the album’s closer Saturday Night Inside Out featuring Father John Misty and spoken word by John Berman, inspired by the best of 70s soft-rock. It could’ve closed out Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, and is one of the finest tracks of the year.

Wildflower is a series of nostalgic vignettes punctuated by instrumental interludes and the success of the album hinges on how those vignettes connect to you, the listener. Sampled music is the soundtrack of the artist’s everyday life and contrary to what the rockist luddites of music fandom might say, it’s intensely personal. Both creator and listener have their own unique relationships with any given piece of a sound collage. Boards of Canada summon the ghost in the machine using sounds from old documentaries, voices of people that are now dead or irrevocably changed.

Burial mourns the death of the dance music of his youth. The visceral emotions and sensations their sounds provoke will change at different points in your life, and will certainly never be the same as anyone else. The Avalanches operate in the same nostalgic mode but use those memory-jacking techniques to take you back to those summer days, in the outdoors with chill music, cold cider and good mates.

 – By Alex Boyd

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