Review Summary: my voice is still gonna be here
"Hey. I'm sorry I left so suddenly. I just wanted you to know I'm okay here. It's hard really, being, you know, like so far apart and, all this distance, and the silence, you know?"
On its surface, this is the saddest Avalanches project. Its most obvious theme is that of the dissolution of a relationship. The opening monologue implies it, and the album cover makes it even clearer, especially if you're familiar with Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan's widow. After he tragically passed in 1996 at only 62, Druyan was left alone. "For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love" said Sagan in Contact
, and surely thoughts like this have passed through all our minds as we have struggled with our relationships throughout COVID-19's reign. I, for one, have lost, minimized, or at least put strain on many of my relationships due to quarantining, disagreements on mask wearing, etc. I'm confident it hasn't been easy for any of us. The pandemic has led to more break-ups and divorces than usual, and, more importantly, many more deaths. We Will Always Love You
, recorded mostly before 2020, still reflects this deep-seated unhappiness.
This doesn't mean it's lost the magic of their past works. Since I Left You
had a certain bright spark. The brilliance is maintained, the surroundings have just dimmed. The lyrics showcase this most blatantly, from "something's gone horribly wrong" on "Running Red Lights" to the hook of "We Go On:" "we go on, hurting each other" (a Carpenters sample). Subtler themes of reservation are scattered throughout, from "Take Care In Your Dreaming" with its cautious tale of lowering your expectations for a suitable reward to "Born To Lose" and its thumping nu-disco mourning. The ambient introduction and computerized finale are some of the most somber moments in their discography, rivalling Since
's "Tonight." If you were worried about a downward mood trajectory and a decrease in plunderphonics lowering the quality of the album, don't fear. There are so many flawless moments on here - the end of "The Divine Chord," "I still remember you" echoing in the background leading into "Solitary Ceremonies," "Always Black" as its melody accelerates into and around itself under Pink Siifu's extremely calm verse, almost spoken word. And as always, this is an album that does its best work together, not just a collection of songs. I really didn't care for "Running Red Lights" until I heard it after "Dial D For Devotion," where it transforms from a slightly obnoxious California anthem to a moment of continuity where the album could have concluded but mercifully carried on.
Of course, We Will
would not mean as much if it didn't stand out from its predecessors somehow. The most blatant is the number of collaborators, which jumped from 7 to 23. Many have already written about how this hasn't been a bad thing for the band, including the Avalanches themselves, who have said they were trying to avoid a "hodge podge." This is certainly true, but there is something different here. Because it's not composed of hundreds to thousands of samples like the others, each piece has to stand out on its own. The elements are no less meaningful, just larger. It takes a skilled hand to make any mosaic, whether you're working with large tiles or tiny pieces of paper. There's also a new aesthetic - where Since
were modeled after a journey on a ship, and a radio-fueled trip, respectively, We Will
is set in space. Like the EEG scan that was sent into the great unknown and inspired the album, this feels cosmic. There's various motifs of infinity, from titles ("Interstellar Love" and "Gold Sky") to sounds of electricity, morse code to echoing.
Outer space is not the only theme, and sadness is not the only emotion this explores. As always, there is a strong undercurrent of hope. Every Avalanches album paints with a different shade of dream, and this one just happens to be a little darker initially. "Overcome," "Music Makes Me High," "We Go On," and "Running Red Lights" all feel positively bright. Eagle-eyed readers might remember those last two were mentioned earlier as examples of downhearted lyrics, and I don't think this is an accident on the Avalanches' part. There's a power to pairing light with dark - it makes the music both more sorrowful and more promising, whatever you need at the moment you listen.
Shortly after the release of Wildflower
, Robbie Chater (one of the two Avalanches) went to rehab. His experience was formative. He assumed that the band was finished, and was surprised to find out that wasn't the case when he left. Since then, he's been sober, something that he'd been struggling with for many years. This triumph over addiction is enormous, and influenced them to become a "normal band" again (part of why they focused more on live singers than samples this time around). There was a path forward for the Avalanches when it seemed hopeless, and there's one for all of us. During the pandemic, we have all struggled. Just like the battle it took to get to this silver lining of an album over the course of the year, every Avalanches album has a beautiful and rewarding conclusion. "Weightless" is an audio version of the Arecibo message, an interstellar radio signal, including the DNA sequence, the numbers 1 through 10, etc. It's a fitting ending, translating a moment full of hope for life beyond our own into the last thing you hear. When it seems like there's no reason to go on, when everything's broken, when you are hit harder than you can imagine by loss, listen to this - a practically perfect record.
"Every single moment that we were alive and we were together was miraculous … that pure chance could be so generous and so kind … that we could find each other … in the vastness of space and the immensity of time … I saw him. We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful." - Ann Druyan