The Avalanches’ 16 Year Jam

Sampling is tough, never mind Kanye West. It almost always requires hours of listening to get that one snippet of a track, usually 2-3 seconds, and unless you’re trying to be pop culture, requires a fair bit of digging into the history of recorded media. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Australian electronic group The Avalanches took all of 16 years to release their second album, Wildflower, after their excellent debut record, Since I Left You. It was a culmination of a wide variety of projects, collaboration with various artists, scores to plays and movies. At one time, the band were considering over 40 tracks, which had become mostly hip hop oriented. During the 2010’s, they eventually stripped it back to 21 tracks. Member Robbie Chanter described the album’s structure as a “road trip from a hyper-realistic urban environment to somewhere remote and far away while on LSD”.

The guest list on this album would put any ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ compiler to shame with collaborations from Father John Misty, Toro y Moi, Danny Brown, Kevin Parker, The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue amongst others. At the end of its production, the album had more than 3,500 samples, yet it hardly sounds disjointed. When the album starts, you are hit with a sudden sense of skateboarding-based nostalgia. The things soon turn funky with Frankie Sinatra, arguably the album’s only true single. It segues into Subway, a marvelous piece of ABBA-esque 70’s type disco song. If I Was a Folkstar draws into the most unusual of samples, namely Queens of the Stone Age, and feature one of the originator of the chillwave genre, Toro y Moi. Zap! provides a relaxing ebb to the flow of the songs.

Things soon turn weird and psychedelic with The Noisy Eater, which was a remnant from an animated musical film described as a ‘hip hop version of Yellow Submarine’, and it does sound as weird as the source material from which it originates. It all turns hazy with no clear song structuring, with all songs meshing into each other, culminating into The Wozard of Iz, sampling Tommy James and the Shondells. Things become much clearer towards the end of the album, giving the listener a sense of being on a road trip which is soon about to end. The album ends with a one-two punch of Stepkids and Saturday Night Inside Out, both folksy numbers bound to make you feel good and a sense of general calmness.

Since I Left You presented a new way in which dance music could be presented, and was one of the most intimate and emotional dance records that was not vocal based. The Avalanches developed a “unique context” for the songs without compromising their original “distinct flavor”. 16 years later, The Avalanches have done it again, just not as well as the last time. There’s a bit too much filler, and production doesn’t seem as tight as it could’ve been. The first half of the album was excellent and kept you on the feet, while the second half just melts into each other without standing out.

Let’s hope that the subsequent releases that they’ve planned over the year ties up the album into a wonderful package.