Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Avalanches - Wildflower Review

The universe exists in a systematic pattern, deemed by humans as time. Our perceptions of it change based on events existing inside, despite the tick of the clock forever remaining the same. As you age, gobbling up the past behind you, each day, week, month, year feels less substantial than the one before. This is why we yearn to experience summer as a child again, as in that time it feels endless. As it pertains to art forms, nostalgia is born; a sentimental feeling meant to reflect on a personal or existential past. Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi, now the only members of The Avalanches still grasping onto what once was, have just released Wildflower, an album dedicated to that sensation. It isn't just a singular plane either, the nostalgia emanating from their sophomore release comes in many forms. Thematically, it follows a warm, blurry, rose-tinted vision of a 60's-inspired rendezvous with companions traveling through cities, towns, valleys, and the unknown. In actuality, it's Chater and Di Blasi's cordial embrace of their adolescence, the one spent making Since I Left You, spending hours mixing 3,500 samples with their friends. Now, 16 years later, entering their inevitable mid-life crisis, the duo relives the past the only way they know how; through music.

Humanity has created many metaphors for the passage of time, one such example is that of the leaves falling. Clocking in at an ironically paltry 15 seconds, 'The Leaves Were Falling' does little more than relay to listeners that, yes, this is actually happening. Distant chatter of a crowd toying around with the radio begins our journey, and just as it tunes to the right frequency, and 'Because I'm Me' begins, The Avalanches have rightly returned, a celebratory revelation that comes close to rivaling the whimsical benevolence of 'Since I Left You.' Everything you could hope for in a return track exists in 'Because I'm Me.' With the weight of 16 years bearing down on it, the jubilee manages to stay free, wholesome, and true to The Avalanches ideology. Shocking yet, once the undeniable charm of the hook settles in, you'll be quick to gauge this as a bonafide Hip-Hop track. With verses from Camp Lo, creators of Uptown Saturday Night, one of the last visages of the Native Tongues, a peace-wielding collective born out of the rubble of New York City. 

When Hip-Hop happens on Wildflower, of which it does quite often, this is the main source of inspiration. The Avalanches, and everyone they've chosen to associate with here, are essentially flower children of the 60's and 70's. Of sound and positive mind, kookiness drives the rapping performances while singing spots remain ripe with fanciful fodder. Danny Brown's sometimes repugnant lyrics can't conceal how much of a caricature his vocals and flows are. Appearing on lead single 'Frankie Sinatra,' alongside his genre's most legendary cartoon MF DOOM, and 'Wozard Of Iz,' Brown matches the sporadic unconventionality of The Avalanches to a tee. And while 'The Noisy Eater' was quite the risk for the duo, following the likes of the Gorillaz's 'Superfast Jellyfish,' the choice to revolve outdated cereal infomercials around Biz Markie, acting as the sponsor, was just stupid genius. Better yet, these spots lend more credence to Wildflower's sampling side, coming off just as weird as the Plunderphonics around them, than its lyrically-inclined, of which Camp Lo on 'Because I'm Me' and Paris Pershun on 'Live A Lifetime Love' fill the gap wonderfully, nestling into each respective song with natural ease.

But really, rapping is just a piece of the ever-unfolding greatness found within Wildflower. Another aspect is the singers and their ability to conjure up emotions related to personal visions. Jonathan Donahue, lead singer of Mercury Rev, appears on 'Colours' and 'Kaleidoscope Lovers' to provide some of the dreamiest vocals I've ever heard. His voice is weightless and childlike as if he's transported to a colorful utopia where he's free to run wild amongst the flowers. He's not alone though, as Toro y Moi finds himself lost amongst the rush hour of 'If I Was A Folkstar,' while Jennifer Herrema lights firecrackers and hangs out by the water on 'Stepkids.' In every instance, even spots where Ariel Pink and Father John Misty appear just to hum whilst on a stroll, the goal of The Avalanches is to infuse their own sampled nostalgia with that of the singers, bringing dozens of memories to the forefront as a result. Each is deliberately intertwined with the piece they find themselves on, seeing their presence used more elaborately than the hustle and bustle of the rap connoisseurs. With The Avalanches being raised in the 90's on Hip-Hop, their debut EP El Producto following trails of the Beastie Boys, it's easy to interpret Wildflower's rapping as living in the moment, while it's singing reflecting on the past.

Now that it's only taken three paragraphs to support the decisions Chater and Di Blasi made by inviting guest spots, we can finally focus on the crux of Wildflower; The Avalanches and their sonic bliss. After aging for almost two decades, losing the majority of members in the process, only having a single work that could've easily be seen as a fluke, the fact that the final product's unparalleled elation and impeccable stature stands up to Since I Left You is a modern, musical marvel. In 2000, nothing sounded like The Avalanches. In 2016, that declaration still rings true. Not only is it arguably the greatest Dance record in the 2010's, it might be the best Neo-Psychedelia one as well. All the while using techniques that'll forbid it from being primarily described as anything but Plunderphonics. Early in the creation process, the album was initially referred to as "ambient world music." And while Wildflower's finished product resembles almost nothing of the sort, its ceaseless intrigue in genres and persistent travelogue of sounds, styles, and samples imply that The Avalanches swung for the fences and indisputably hit it out of the park.

But enough about looming generalities, let's examine the details as to why. Sonically speaking, as Chater and Di Blasi mentioned in their press release, Wildflower revolves around the counter culture of the 1960's. Think Woodstock, long drives in a beat-up station wagon, and the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. As would be expected, many samples are taken from this era, or are rare enough to appear anywhere in time. The pre-requisite being; everything must provide warmth and sentimentality. The two most prominent vocals samples on Wildflower are that of pubescent teens, 'Because I'm Me' featuring an 11-year old boy, 'Subways' a 12-year old girl. Their audible flaws bringing out the charm of failure and growth, as The Avalanches work around them to provide a missing piece of their childhood. 'Because I'm Me' in particular samples Six Boys In Trouble, a group formed out of housing projects in 1959 because means of fun were difficult to come by. Now, in 2016, their creativity, which couldn't reach ears due to their impoverished struggle, finds a plethora of instrumental opportunities, their laughter throughout implies they're loving the ride.

'Subways,' the album's unofficial enigma leading up to release, parades around an imaginative loop that bustles, thumps, and vibrates like an early Daft Punk record had it been less robotic. For me, it's 'Subways' that bares the strongest scent of Since I Left You, the album and track, partially because of its Funk-inspired add-on 'Going Home,' which continues the party in much the same way 'Stay Another Season' did on their debut. Really, as far as comparisons go, it's shocking how well Wildflower is crafted that it's able to sound just like The Avalanches while not sounding like Since I Left You at every turn. But there are moments, like standout 'Harmony,' that remind me of the string-infested, vocal-chopping brilliance of the 2000 classic. A production masterpiece, 'Harmony' is utter bliss, with dips in sound that remain just as interesting as the ascension to the clouds. Really though, it's unfair to single out any track in terms of production, as Wildflower, just like Since I Left You, is formulated as a sessional work, with seamless transitions (apart from the jarring 'Frankie Sinatra' finale) throughout.

It's certainly a reach, and seems to be a product of creation rather than intent, but Wildflower seems to exist as a vinyl in the days where there was no alternative. Apart from the crackling of many echoing samples, the ode to that era, and the coherency throughout, Wildflower also seems to work in segments, as there are multiple triplets throughout. 'Zap!' and 'Wildflower,' with their Saturday morning cartoon vibes, fit snugly around 'The Noisy Eater.' 'Park Music' and 'Livin' Underwater (Is Something Wild)' seep in a folksy atmosphere that comfortably erupts into 'Wozard Of Iz.' And finally, 'Over The Turnstiles' and 'Light Up' lay bare-chested as the beaming 'Sunshine' sends endless rays onto the earth. So while it doesn't represent one stream like Since I Left You, the pieces which make up the whole ultimately do just as good of a job making an ever-lasting impression. The last few songs of the LP take a decisively introspective turn though, concluding with poet David Berman reciting the events as the past has reached the present. You really get the sense of discovery, joy, and exploration as Wildflower travels throughout its duration.

At a hefty 21 songs, it's a shock there's not a forgettable one, but, with personal taste in mind, there are a few that sit just beneath the rest. A proponent of 'Frankie Sinatra' since it dropped, even I see the intrinsic problems it harbors. Still a ridiculously fun single, but it does tend to feel a bit exclusionary. The first half of 'If I Was A Folkstar' and the entirety of 'Sunshine' suffer from a slight insistence on repetition without reevaluating assets, causing the tracks to linger just a tad too long. And finally, 'Saturday Night Inside Out' is not the closer I wanted. Being rather subdued, with a generic beat gliding across it, the finale to Wildflower somewhat fizzles without making a bang like 'Extra Kings' did. But these are small critiques, as I still enjoy damn near every moment of this epic. And while 'Saturday Night Inside Out' didn't do it for me, it did for the group, as the Berman-assisted finale was actually one of the first things they did post-SILY. A memento of sorts to how far they've come, the pieces they've lost, the years of turmoil, abandonment, dissolution, assimilation, and endurance. Through all that, The Avalanches' second LP is a triumph. Time would tell if it didn't already. Wildflower is a miracle on wax.


  1. Beautiful, beautiful review. Just like the album. The simple fact that they managed to not disappoint after the legacy of their debut is an incredible feat. Maybe another lovely album to add to the desert island list :P ?

  2. Thanks for enjoying it! And seriously, such an amazing accomplishment, can't even rightly put it into words. And damn, I honestly never thought of that! This would be the perfect desert island list album jeeeeez, doing it as we speak haha

  3. Nice review. I'm really excited to listen to Since I Left You. I'm new to Avalanches and after hearing a lot that Harmony (my fav of this album) sounds like that album, I'm kinda corcened to give it a listen soon. But I will with no doubt.

    1. They are both really wonderful albums, and for different reasons which make it even better! You'll love it, that's for sure.