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Album Review: The Avalanches – Wildflower

3 min read

More than just about any act in musical history, The Avalanches have made a career out of mystique. Until now, the group have only ever released one album, 2000’s near-undisputed masterpiece Since I Left You. After that album’s release, the band quickly dropped off the radar, playing a few live shows, but otherwise disappearing entirely. A follow up was teased for a long time (leading to the running joke that it wasn’t being released due to sample clearances), but eventually all but the band’s most ardent fans abandoned hope. Since I Left You has become something of a musical monument, confounding listeners with its construction (it’s made up almost entirely from obscure vinyl samples), and individuality. It’s an album that’s perfect for a party, and perfect for the bus-ride home. It’s appeared on numerous “best albums of all-time” lists. So what happens when you make a sequel to a monument?

The Avalanches WildflowerWhen Since I Left You was released, it already sounded out of time. DJ Shadow kicked off the plunderphonics wave, but Endtroducing… was dark and ponderous. In dramatic contrast, Since I Left You sounded like summer. It was a silly, joyous record in a genre typically predisposed to seriousness. By extension, Wildflower sounds just as, if not more out of time than Since I Left You did. The album largely seems to pick up where its predecessor left off, with few concessions to modern taste. It’s dance music, but instead of hedonism, it endorses a kind of sun-kissed euphoria, deliberately conjuring the specter of the 1960s. The bass is mixed much lower than contemporary electronica, and the emphasis is on harmony and texture more than beats and riffs.

Because I’m Me, the outstanding opening track (after a 15-second intro of found-sounds and chatter), is possibly the best thing the band has ever made. The way the filters lift off the horns into the first verse, and the moment the beat drops in are sublime, and would leave any listener grinning. It feels like The Avalanches announcing their return, and it’s done with such swagger and finesse that it feels like they never went away. It evokes the atmosphere of summer, and does so with carefully placed samples instead of bombast. Much of the album lives within this atmosphere, from the almost Tame Impala-esque Colours, to the pastoral folk of Kaleidoscopic Lovers. It feels coherent without being overly same-y, and sets itself apart from their debut’s more club-focused style.

There are a few factors that differentiate the style of the album from Since I Left You. The most obvious is the addition of several guest vocalists on the album. Pre-release single Frankie Sinatra features verses from Danny Brown and MF DOOM, both of whom fit well into the quirky atmosphere of Wildflower. Brown even shows up again on The Wozard of Iz, which is one of the stranger tracks on the record. Built around a sample from 60’s rock group The Shondells, the track is deliriously psychedelic, and Brown’s sing-song flow sounds like a natural part of the its world. Whilst it’d be easy to assume the guests would compromise the purity of The Avalanches experience – part of what made Since I Left You so renowned – but they’re chosen perfectly, never sounding out of place. In fact, bar a few of the rap verses, on first listen they’re near-impossible to differentiate from the samples.

The album Wildflower most resembles is actually mbv. Like Since I Left You, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless was a masterpiece that defined a genre, and many thought it would never receive a follow-up. However, when mbv was released in 2013, it showed the band had remained peerless, and although it didn’t innovate much from its predecessor, it didn’t need to. It existed as a seminal, separate entity from Loveless, and is remembered as one of the best albums of 2013. Wildflower accomplishes the same thing, existing both as a successor to Since I Left You, and as a phenomenal album in its own right. It’s different and the same in all the right ways, and much like its predecessor, it is incredible.