Album Review: The Avalanches - Wildflower

Album Reviews
07/12/2016
Gerrit Feenstra

"It's so fuckin' party you will die." That was The Avalanches self-endorsement of Wildflower from back in January 2007. It had been a long wait for a new Avalanches record (seven years), but the boys were getting it together. They just needed nine more to make it perfect. Back in 2000, the Australian electronic group took the art of sampling to unfathomable new heights with their sparkling opus Since I Left You. The number of samples on the record gets tossed around - somewhere between 900 and 3500. Before The Avalanches, sampling in the electronic sphere of music danced with novelty above substance. Inspired by the more definitive sampling techniques of De La Soul and the complex sampling exploration of mid-90s Beastie Boys, they sought to do something crazy, on a scale that no one had ever tried before. What their record attempted was to capture its listener using predominantly recycled sound, repossessed and repurposed for a new context. Of course, the rest is history. Since I Left You has gone down as one of the most refreshing and game-changing electronic records out there, inspiring a whole field of new producers to take their sampling up a notch. Creating a follow up to their masterpiece has been hard work, but nine years after that blog post, the album is here. 40 songs trimmed down to a fresh 21 track continuous mix, Wildflower makes due on its party promises, taking the magic of Since I Left You to the modern day, and giving us a bright and unapologetically positive burst of energy to carry through the rest of summer.

Remember back to the first time you heard Since I Met You. Confronted with zero context, it's hard to tell exactly what's going on. There's some sound and some melody, but more than pure melody, just a feeling of distinct parts working together in unorthodox conjunction. With a careful ear, you could get sidetracked immediately, trying pick through the weeds and find the certain sounds and samples and form a framework to shape this colorful mass in your mind. But much like a well assembled collage, the picture is best appreciated from a slight distance. Here, apart from the sensory overload, only one feeling dominates the Avalanches listening experience: inexplicable euphoria. It's almost as if, through the record's hundreds (maybe thousands) of samples, the Avalanches found a way to share their immediate impact joy of discovery with the listener. This is what makes Since I Left You such a masterful record, and also what makes it such a daunting task to follow.

The good news is, in the sixteen years its taken them to perfect it, Wildflower is indeed a deserving sequel. Like all good sequels, the Avalanches use the perfect recipe of the same irreplaceable charm, slight nods to the original, and plenty of updated modern context. After the fifteen second intro of "The Leaves Were Falling", we get a perfect point of exhibition in "Because I'm Me". 1971 R&B gem "Want Ads" fades in, then over top is layered the obscure 1959 recording "Why Can't I Get It Too" by Six Boys in Trouble, a band of pre-teen boys in NYC housing projects making improvised music together. The mishmash piles forward for a minute or two before the first of two Camp Lo verses drops in. The fusion of Avalanches with the 90s hip-hop fusion act seems so perfect as the melting pot just continues to boil with bubbly magic. Right off the bat, we have it all: Avalanches throwing a party like the one from 2000 never ended, and full-on features to pull Wildflower away from the "plunderphonics" moniker that has surely antiquated in the last sixteen years of progressive electronic production. Wildflower never tries to make lightning strike twice in the same place. Rather, it celebrates and benefits from a strong consciousness of exactly where it lies in the electronic spectrum of 2016.

And where is that exactly? Well, not unlike the space between Daft Punk's Human After All and Random Access Memories or the massive space between My Bloody Valentine's Loveless and 2013 comeback m b v, there has to be come knowledge about what has come between. Even in the first track alone, we know that there is nothing new under the sun with the magnificent plethora of DJs and producers on the scene today. Bonobo made use of "Why Can't I Get It Too" on 2010 track "All In Forms", and Girl Talk made use of "Want Ads" in an original production for Jim Jones in 2011. But never once does Wildflower feel like its been done. Rather, this reinforces the true value of the features present herein, each as irreplaceable and original as the masterminds behind the production. Take "Frankie Sinatra" for example, perhaps the album's most straightforward hip-hop number by construction alone, despite its off kilter weirdo party mood. Danny Brown rips through a couple excellent verses before MF Doom closes out with nothing but attitude. The track bounces forward without much deviation from the sample at heart of the track, before finally spilling into a transitional outro making use of "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music and then giving us a more traditional Avalanches outing with "Subway". Even despite the comparative limitation and pro-pop structure formations, the verses each seem to blend into the larger picture the same way that sampled vocals do on later tracks.

In this way, Wildflower seems to bob and weave between two poles: an Avalanches mix as we've known it to be, and a well-executed hip-hop record with the producers' names at the head of the marquee. The only production I can really think to compare this new model to is that of the Gorillaz. And just like the best of Damon's constructions, the feature choices here feel incredibly intentional - nothing is trendy and everything feels the greater vision. Take "If I Were A Folkstar" for example, where Toro y Moi's sultry crooning barely breaks from the wallpaper behind him, or "Live A Lifetime of Love" and "Saturday Night Inside Out", where Ariel Pink and Father John Misty (respectively) are more felt than heard. While nothing will replace Biz Markie's hangry throwdown on "Noisy Eater" or Danny Brown's bipolar offerings on "Frankie Sinatra" and "The Wozard of Iz", the kaleidoscope of wild color is the undoubtedly the winner of any contest. Instead of trying to add to the noise or compete with the top of the pops, adding features to the mixture only gives the Avalanches more territory to conquer.

With their return, the Avalanches have accomplished exactly what they set out to do: give us a feel good album that holds its weight against an almost untouchable debut. And just like the first time around, you will smile, you will laugh, you will cry, and you will do it all again and again. More than samplers, producers, or arbiters of destruction, the Avalanches are mood gurus, conjuring feeling from sounds and landscapes that the rest of us can't hear or see. And no matter how long it takes between records, when they choose to give us a new gift, it's going to bring those feelings out in ways you will never see coming. Wildflower is brimming with surprises, so, so, so many of which have no justice done to them by a pithy review. The feeling can be bottled in the amazing interlude track "Zap!". A once melancholy monologue from 80s Seattle documentary Streetwise is here presented for a new audience in euphoric context, egging its listener on to come down to earth, wake up, get out of bed and embrace the day for exactly what it is. See the color spectrum the way Avalanches do, and you'll never run out of discovery.

Wildflower is out now on Astralwerks! Grab it at your local record store on CD or red vinyl. The Avalanches have no international tour dates yet, but keep an eye on their Facebook for more info.

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