Review Summary: "If she don't love me, what can I do?"
The internet is changing people and how they see art. I wish this could have dropped in an era with no hype, with no predecided opinions, with no looking around to see what everyone else is saying. Wildflower
has fallen to the absolute worst possible reception it could possibly have. The overwhelming consensus for this album is that it is “pretty good.” It scored a 79 on AOTY, an 83 on Metacritic, a 3.56 on RYM, a 3.7 on Sputnik, everything you would expect from someone with their status in the music world. After a huge surge of interest and every music press worth their salt scrambling over themselves to google “since I left you release date,” the hype just curled up and died. I checked a google trends report, and after the surge in July, the current interest level for Wildflower
is actually lower than the interest level for their first album in 2005. It’s currently five months post-release, and 2005 was five years
past Since I Left You
. What happened? It’s not one of those albums you listen to once and forget about forever – it’s full of brilliant hooks, and if nothing else, it’s certainly an album you can talk about. I know I can.
Despite what the popular narrative might tell you, the Avalanches haven’t been inactive since Since
. They might not have released an album since then, but they’ve been making DJ mixes for a while now. That’s kind of their thing – Since
was a turntablism album. Outside of the electronic scene, most critics don’t really care about mixes. Mixes won’t let you focus on individual tracks, or at least it’s not easy to do so. It is certainly easier to talk about things on a track-by-track basis, and writers often default to commenting on specific tracks to bring out their points instead of approaching it on the more difficult and rewarding broader scope. So, unless it’s clearly formatted otherwise (physical CDs with tracklists), or obviously highly influential and relevant (Rustie’s BBC mix), the mainstream music media doesn’t really pay any attention. The Avalanches have never really been either. Since
managed to hit just at the right time, when the pure novelty of plunderphonics convinced people to give it a chance, and since then, also due partially to peoples’ lack of understanding of a mix-based album format, people have largely been willing to treat it as a single cohesive listening experience. Wildflower
hasn’t had that luxury. Plunderphonics and turntablism, as Resident Advisor (one of the only websites that really cares about the mix format) pointed out in their review, aren’t cool nowadays, and people aren’t afraid to dissect it anymore. Unfortunately, this willingness to dissect has led to a misunderstanding as to how the album should be digested.
I have spent an unhealthy amount of time the past few months writing drafts, reading reviews, and analyzing discussion on Wildflower
online. The most common complaint, by far, is about a few select tracks. If you care enough about this artist to have read this far, you know which tracks I’m talking about. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read the words “disrupt the flow” since July, but what actually disrupts the flow of an album is thinking of it in terms of tracks. It makes little sense to do so, and it makes even less for something made by artists whose primary talent has always been their ability to create a flow out of what you would least expect. I can see how you might think these previously mentioned songs would interrupt if you were listening to them on their own and comparing them to other songs on here, but what you must realize if you want to understand Wildflower
or anything the Avalanches have ever written is that track beginnings and endings are largely arbitrary. They think on a large scale – anyone who works so much with samples has to.
My first concept for this review was pretty ambitious. I was planning on using solely quotes from reviews and discussion and the album itself, in order to paint a picture that would explain why I liked it so much. As you can tell, I gave up on that dream. Instead, I did what I always do and wrote in ways I have always read other people write. I learned that is very, very hard to be so direct and upfront about what you are stealing. But art necessitates theft. The vast majority of music that has ever been released, recorded, or even played has been someone copying another, or doing their best to make something as good as someone else. Inspiration is essential to art and it would be impossible otherwise. By sampling, the Avalanches are blatantly stating “this is where we get our ideas, this is good art, and we are creating something new with it.” Instead of just trying for a Beach Boys-esque harmony, they just sample the Beach Boys song they’re thinking of. To be able to identify what you’re remembering when you are writing a song and think “I want something that sounds kind of like…” takes a special element of skill and effort on its own, especially for crate-diggers like them who have likely listened to much, much more music (another unrecognized source of work) than the average person or even the average serious music fan. That ability is portrayed to an uncanny level here, where layers upon layers of samples are constant, ranging from the most obscure bits and pieces to complete sections. We still haven’t come close to finding them all, and probably won’t. My point is, it is impossible to comprehend the sheer effort put into something like this. Everyone has already pointed out the sixteen years, but I’d like to point out how brief that really was.
Maybe all that work on its own creates beauty. For the most part, life seems to reflect that. Effort is generally rewarded. But I’ve also seen beauty created with practically no effort, or even on accident. I can’t say for certain that the sheer years put into Wildflower make it something gorgeous by default. But I can say that it is
something gorgeous. Yin and yang, harmony and melody, the Beach Boys and the Beatles, people and animals, children and adults, planning and spontaneity, activity and passivity, events and the everyday, narrative and blur, love and lust, nostalgia and regret, joy and tears. When I listen to the album, I hear all of these things through an hour that always passes faster than I expect. I notice opposites with more similarities than might be obvious. Each member of a pair is essential and detrimental to the other. I hear beauty and misery in the conflict and the connection. There is so much more reality to this parallelism than there could possibly be in just one aspect. If art reflects life, this is certainly art. In my very first review, for Since I Left You
, I noted that it taught me that life is beautiful. My experience with Wildflower
has done something more – it has taught me what life is.
“Wild thing! I think I love you!”