Review Summary: Every moment we're together makes me hope it lasts forever
Folks, it’s been a long time.
are an Australian plunderphonics group formed in 1997. Their first, and thought to be their last, album Since I left You
was a critical and commercial success when it was released in 2000. Many consider it the best album of that decade, certainly of that year.
And now, almost 16 years after the fact, we finally have our follow-up record. Not an EP or a live album, but a true successor to their landmark debut. The 21-track, 58-minute long Wildflower
(much like its predecessor) has a “one-continuous-song” flow to it, with each sample meshing with the next, and each track leading perfectly into each other. Because of this, listening to the album should be done as if all the tracks were a single entity.
After a brief prelude with “The Leaves Were Falling,” the album kicks off with “Because I’m Me,” a spectacular opener that is a perfect example of what the Avalanches are known for: Sample-laden electronic music that makes you want to get up and groove. Sadly, despite me liking this song immensely, the main trouble with Wildflower
begins to develop on this very track with the inclusion of a feature by hip-hop duo Camp Lo. Now, before you hip-hop fans jump on me, I should note that I actually like their work here. They have a good chemistry with the track, the verse is fairly well-written, and it definitely fits the tone of elation the song is striving for. It's just... out of place here.
Let me explain.
You see, Since I Left You
was notable for creating entirely new pieces from preexisting ones. The initial draw of the band was how each individual sample played a role in creating a new work of art. Like snipping pictures out of a magazine to use in a collage, the Avalanches could string together an entirely new song from the parts of several preexisting ones. This time around, the samples and instrumentation are now forced to share the spotlight with yet another factor: features. Guest appearances include Camp Lo, Toro y Moi, Jonathan Donahue, Biz Markie, Jean-Michel Bernard, Ariel Pink, Father John Misty, and many more. It's not that I dislike any of these artists; I've enjoyed many of these artist's work in the past. Its just that on an Avalanches record, one that already has a lot going on, the addition of features just makes it feel cluttered. Sure the argument could be made that the features can be thought of as just another instrument for the Avalanches to tinker with, but the way they are strewn about the album just doesn't sit right, like they were an afterthought or a last-minute inclusion. Instead of enhancing positive qualities of these tracks like a good feature should, they detract from them. This is especially true with songs like “The Wozard of Iz” and “Live a Lifetime Love;” whenever I hear them, I can't help but feel they would have benefited from letting the mix speak for itself, or dialing back the features at the very least.
From the second track, we move to the album's big hit "Frankie Sinatra," sporting guest spots by Danny Brown and MF Doom. The song, while far from my favorite on the album, does have an infectious quality to it that just makes it a blast to listen to. From there, we move to the more comfortable territory with the disco/funk stylings of "Subways" and "Going Home" to the serene beauty and plucky guitar of "Colours" (featuring Jonathan Donahue of Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev fame). One of the more interesting entries on the album, "The Noisy Eater," harkens back to some of the group's earlier work (Run DNA, I'm Taken), while simultaneously usurping those tracks by having Biz Markie and Jean-Michel Bernard featured on it. While I'm not sold entirely on including features here, even I can look past that for such a glorious match-up.
As you go down the tracklist, you begin to notice a lot of shorter tracks. The Avalanches are no strangers to shorter tracks sprinkled about their albums, but Wildflower
takes this concept and runs with it. Short vignettes like "Zap!," "Wildflower," "Park Music," "Over The Turnstiles," and "Light Up" (while not necessarily bad) do feel inconsequential. While I wouldn't go as far as to call them filler, they do seem to all collect towards the middle of the record. On top of that, the second half of the album does feel a bit weaker than the first. I say that but, there are a few outliers here and there, particularly the seaside feel of "Livin’ Underwater (Is Something Wild)" and the upbeat "Sunshine." With the exception of the aforementioned tracks, Wildflower
's 2nd half seems to be more concerned with acquiring a dream-like ambiance to close the album out with so that it lines up with the intro track for cyclical listening. While I do understand what the group was going for when choosing "Kaleidoscopic Lovers," "Stepkids," and "Saturday Night Inside Out" to be the final 3 tracks of the album, it's strange to see such a monumental release go out with a slow fade out as opposed to a bombastic climax. But I suppose there's a lesson to be learned here, and the Avalanches are more than qualified to teach it. After almost a decade and a half of waiting, what better way to end their follow-up record than with a display of confidence; ending the album rather quietly, leaving listeners chomping at the bit for more. If that was their intent, then consider me hooked.
While I have my issues with Wildflower
, it truly does feel special in a way. Not all moments have to be perfect, sometimes we just want to know it'll all be okay. Here's to hoping this moment lasts just a little while longer.
Welcome back, Avalanches.