Monday, March 10, 2014

The Avalanches - Since I Left You Review (2000)

Since I Left You is a gem in the rough. During the transitional period in music centering around the turn of the century when it seemed like rap ran its course, indie replaced grunge, and the pulsating house music of the raver paradise finally died down, The Avanlanches sole album stood untethered by formulaic constraints, and created something that aimed to stand the test of time. Since I Left You isn't a 2000 album, nor even an 'aughts album, the piece stands alone as something inherently beautiful bound by no point in time and will forever remain an integral part of attraction for the human psyche. For where DJ Shadow succeeded in making long-lasting dread and infinite sadness with Entroducing..., The Avalanches succeeded in creating the opposite. Since I Left You is what true happiness sounds like.

Being a remarkable fan of instrumental music, it bewilders me that this album has evaded my eye for so long. RJD2, Blockhead, Daedelus, Emancipator, all artists I've been listening to for years, all directly influenced by the work The Avalanches put forth. Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk, DJ Shadow, & Fatboy Slim, all artists I've listened to for years, all directly influenced Avalanches work. The group that created this vast 18 track work has laid dormant ever since its release over a decade ago, leaving Since I Left You to be the only mark on their discography. And boy is it a high one. It's robust yet simplistic, tranquil yet chaotic, fresh yet retro. But above all else, the sole appraisal that has no divisive compliment is the inherent joy that stems from its creation. Fluttering pipes, breezy synths, major note piano melodies, and danceable drums litter the landscape of the record. The highest merit Since I Left You cherishes is the single one it is composed of; samples. According to Robbie Chater, one half of the band, the album comprises over 3,500 samples, a number so unfathomably large that even those with quality headphones will have trouble finding 1/10th of them. In every facet of the album, from the aforementioned instruments to the vocal compilations, a source existed outside of The Avalanches. 

And it's precisely those vocal harmonies that bring existential life out of an album already flourishing in it. From Since I Left You's memorable opening using The Main Attraction's memorable wailing of "Since I left you, I found a world so new," to Close To You's Kid Creole's "There's a gentleman that's goin' round, turning the joint upside down," to Raekwon's gangster snarling of "Avalanche Rock," the samples that adorn the record are taken from all walks of life, all genres, with no restrictions of musical complacency. In fact, it's precisely this clash that separates Since I Left You from any album ever record. Memorable moments consisting of hypnotic sing-a-long's, head-nodding beats, comedic endeavors, and sounds that put a smile on your face comprise the vast majority of the record. Frontier Psychiatrist best exemplifies all four of these characteristics. With its catchy, hilarious alliterations throughout and its collage of hi-hats, scratching, strings, and horns the track works best as a showcase for the duo's talents behind the boards. 

Speaking of the abilities of Robbie Chater and partner Tony Di Blasi, the composition of their magnum-opus is by far the strongest compliment they could receive. Throughout the hour and two minutes their attention to detail never wavers to the point where it becomes obsessive. There's no 'safe' spot to be found. Where one producer could easily coast by and simply repeat a looping beat, The Avalanches never fail to surprise in their placement of obscure samples, many never existing for more than a second. A simple pleasure of mine in music is the act of cohesion amongst an album, something my most cherished genre, Hip-Hop, fails at in many respects. So here, as I watched the intro's time begin to dwindle, instead of the song fading out or cutting off I was blessed with a song transfer into Stay Another Season so seamless, effortless, and all-around blissful that my heart melted and my endorphins spiked. Continue this throughout the album, only using splits in tracks to announce pivotal breaks, and you have one of the most cohesive albums to date.

Some of these risks don't land however. With a piece so melded together it's easy to get lost in the tracks, which allow for the loss of standout tracks. The group somehow formed five singles out of the album but Since I Left You is far to concise to attempt to break a single track out and enjoy it to its fullest extent. Lulls do exist on the record but rest assured they are few and far between. Etoh and Live At Dominoes, the only two tracks to exceed five minutes, both suffer from relative repetition. Now, on any other album these would be seen as dominant works, the former with its subdued slow-rolling soothing, the latter with its house party body-shaking. Here though, their excessive length and inability to grow, expand and distort may create boredom out of the listener who, up until these points in time, have come to expect the unexpected. Regardless, these two certainly do not detract from the piece as a whole and much like any other find there rightful place nestled in Since I Left You.

The legacy of the Avalanches debut album hinges on the fact that they've made nothing since. Their presence in the music industry acts as a sort of mirage. The group from a land far away who created an ever-lasting piece of music, untethered by the age at which it was made, vanishes right after its completion to plop down a record so uniform, so brilliantly composed, and so memorable for listening ears to harbor. Granted it wasn't that mysterious considering the band's well-known perfectionist nature has led their follow-up to receive multiple, years-long delays. Regardless, in a time of remarkable change, the new century embellished new trends as it did away with old ones. As the album's finale, Extra Kings, sounds and The Osmonds's high-pitched gender-alternating "I tried but I just can't get you, ever since the day I left you" is heard, the piece so invested in itself, so involved in its own perfection it can't bear to care for anything surrounding it, closes on the same lyrical content it opens up on. Lying gracefully between both millennium's, as a signaling of change and an earning for the past, was Since I Left You.

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