The Avalanches – Wildflower

Not many acts can release an album, only one album, 16 years ago and still create a major buzz when they decide to release their follow up over a decade later. With little to no movement from the electronic duo in that time, from an outsider’s point of view, it is madness that such a fuss is being made. However, their cult status is more than deserving – in fact they created a pioneering debut LP (Since I Left You) in 2000, an absolute global success that saw the Australian pair use an estimate of 3,500 samples over 18 genre-fusing tracks. An incredible feat from what is regarded as an important concept album that for many music lovers, like myself, was an hour-long education in music’s surreal possibilities. Like DJ Shadow’s debut 1996 album Endtroducing….. which showed us the potential of complete plunderphonics (the art of taking existing audio recording and altering them into a new composition) albeit in a hip-hop/trip-hop genre, Since I Left You sat all on its own by sounding like nothing else and yet being accessible to fans all around the world. Tracks such as ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ and ‘Since I Left You’ still stand the test of time, sounding as unique and innovative as the day they were released. And as an album, Since I Left You took you on an expansive journey from ecstatic highs to troublesome lows, always holding an emotional core that kept the vast amount of different styles and sounds a surprisingly intimate experience.

With rumours circling The Avalanches, reports from as early as 2002 saying they were in the process of making their second album, it’s definitely fair to say that they have built an astonishing amount of anticipation and expectation for the sophomore album. In 2006, their label Modular Recordings added fuel to the fire by issuing a press release stating, “It’s sounding like everything we dared not hope for, and so much more. They’ve made the records of their lives basically”, with the band taking to Twitter to direct followers to a mix-tape that, “may or may not be … by ♥ ?v?L?NCH∑≤ ♥” – this certainly made people hungry for what was coming. After not much else other than an update on The Avalanches website declaring that roughly forty tracks are being considered, acts such as Jennifer Herrema, Danny Brown and Ariel Pink announced in 2012 that they had worked with the band, finally affirming that the now much sort after album was actually in the process of being made.

So July 2016 saw the release of Wildflower, the album “we” have all been waiting for. How is it – an anti-climax? Well initial response is a double thumbs up, receiving an 82 on the much-respected Metacritic (a score that would have been higher if it wasn’t for the shallow writing of the NME). Wildflower starts in a familiar place with a sampled prelude opening the album before going into the celebratory ‘Because I’m Me’, perfectly mixing Honey Cone’s track ‘Want Ads’ and the joyful rhymes of Camp Lo that make the base of this track. Even the “marmite of all marmite” tracks, first single ‘Frankie Sinatra’, sounds better in the mist of The Avalanches’ 21-song kaleidoscopic musical collage. Love it or hate it, you are quickly won over by the boogie enforcing ‘Subway’ which certainly has the nostalgic feel of the disco-pop tracks from the first album.

Perhaps one of the best things about Wildflower is its flow – tracks effortlessly merge from one to the next, as if the majority of the album is meant to be one piece of music – going through ‘Going Home’ and into ‘If I Was A Folkstar’ in one glorious sweep. The latter, featuring Toro Y Moi, is one of the stand out tracks, being full of the Australian summer sun and their penchant for neo-psychedelia which repeatedly features. Fantasy and surrealism are never too far away in Wildflower and throughout the second half of the LP, the duo let loose ripples of nonsensical musical adventures. Each 1-2 minute track acts like stepping onto a plane in one country and getting off in another world of completely new sounds, visiting orchestrated paradise and playful cartoon soundscapes. The album comes to its end with a fanfare of positive energy, two beautifully bright tracks (‘Stepkids’ and ‘Saturday Night Inside Out’) to look forward to after an hour journey, that feels like 16 years, through innovative invention.

How many bands really have managed to come back with a new album after such a long time and not be met by walls of disappointment? Portishead with Portishead (1997) and Third (2008), Vashti Bunyan with Just Another Diamond Day (1971) and Lookaftering (2005), Aphex Twin with Drukqs (2001) and Syro (2014) – not many more great albums come to mind but without a doubt, Wildflower can be added to this list. It may lack the superb singles Since I Left You has and I doubt it will be in many peoples Best Of Year list, but The Avalanches have actually managed to make a follow up record that, stands on its own by sounding like nothing else, yet still staying remarkably cohesive throughout.
Iain Lauder