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Album of the Week: The Avalanches Wildflower

On July 11, 2016

by Ben Munson


Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week's album is the Avalanches' Wildflower

Is it possible to erase the years of rumors and half-truths that lead up to the release of Wildflower, the Avalanches’ sophomore album that took 16 years to come out? Since the 2000 release of Since I Left You, a still-reverberating sound collage dedicated to the patient art of sampling, the Australian producer collective has been living with unfair expectations. Since I Left You channeled so many individual pieces of music, dialogue, found sounds and field recordings into an whirling waterslide through bittersweet nostalgia, winding around parts of the psyche that are difficult to define but easily recognizable. It made people OK with sampling horse whinnies. The album was such a landmark—living in rare Endtroducing…. territory—that fans would naturally clamor for more of what may have been essentially impossible to reproduce.

In the years while Since I Left You reached legal driving age, hope persisted for a follow-up as mixes, live sets and encouraging information from the Avalanches’ embattled label has popped up. But the Avalanches have suffered setbacks. By the time Wildflower came out, only two original Avalanches members—Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi—were left. But then again, how much of your Y2K crew is still intact? The band also had to power through a perfectionist streak and an arduous sample-clearing method, but who else still has that sort of commitment to the craft? Clearly the band needed the time on-and-off to finish Wildflower but the incessant news cycle about the album and early reports from the band that the record is “so fucking party you will die” essentially Chinese Democratized the waiting period for many fans. Now that Wildflower is finally real, can it survive in the world built around its long-anticipated arrival?

The short answer is yes, of course, yes, it’s an actual Avalanches record. It’s overflowing with samples and easy happiness and wistful melancholy. Right from the jump, Wildflower hits a high similar to the opening title track on Since I Left You. “Because I’m Me” rearranges a piercing vocal sample from Six Boys in Trouble over a jubilant loop cut out of Honey Cone’s “Want Ads” and throws in a lively verse from Camp Lo. But unlike Since I Left You, which waited until near the middle to drop the jarring “Frontier Psychiatry,” Wildflower plops down the tuba-tooting carnival stomper “Frankie Sinatra” almost right away. It’s a brash song that’s slightly distracting thanks in part to Danny Brown simply being himself but also a song that doesn’t seem to get enough credit for attaching an MF DOOM verse to a lead single and then allowing that lead single to dreamily fade off into a Sound of Music coda.

“Subways” and “Going Home” succeed in recreating the in-between radio stations feel the Avalanches have perfected and “If I Was a Folkstar” forms a natural fit around Toro y Moi chief Chaz Bundick’s delicate voice. “The Noisy Eater” would border on absurd if hearing Biz Markie rap about cereal didn’t feel like something you never knew your life was missing. But the sample of a children’s choir singing “Come Together” during the chorus—considering the well-reported fact that Paul McCartney personally OK’d it—smacks of flexing new music licensing muscle rather than being an important addition or even an impressive cosign.

Contributors like Ariel Pink and Father John Misty have been mentioned plenty of times in the press cycle leading up to Wildflower’s release but since their influences can be tough to spot, it’s largely pointless to expend energy trying to find them. The Avalanches are able to make contributors like Royal Trux’s Jennifer Herrema stand out well on “Stepkids” but still it’s moments like “Sunshine,” that share the same built-from-forgotten-pieces aesthetic as the band’s debut, when Wildflower works best. Even the Avalanches would admit the goal of their music is not to draw associations with famous friends, but to connect the listener with feelings happy, sad and in the middle without ever causing anything close to discomfort.

Something as light and pleasurable as Wildflower is simply not built to support the weight of 16 years’ worth of expectations. It’s like asking Grover to answer for Sesame Street going behind a paywall. A better approach for listening to the album would be to pretend the decade plus of anticipation never happened and imagine the Avalanches’ second LP touched down to earth as pure and carefree as their first.


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