Review Summary: Transmissions from a satellite heart.
I forgive you.
I forgive you for all the pain you’ve caused me. I forgive my heart for clinging onto the sweet and sour memory, as tight as can be. And I forgive myself for letting it happen.
What does it mean to be in mourning？ To feel that deep dark hole tearing you up from inside？'We Will Always Love You' pushes you to peer inside, casting you inward, adrift in an abyss of snapshot memories & misremembered moments. A bittersweet mirage that you dare not let slip through your fingers. Together they form a simulacrum of a treasured, idealized past that may never have existed at all.
The Avalanches, returning for just their third album in 20 years, demonstrate a shocking amount of depth and empathy on 'We Will Always Love You.' In it, they explore this subject like psycho-sonic astronauts, conjuring hope and fostering gratitude as they discover a new way to mourn. The duo accomplishes this via a combination of neo soul, electronics, hip hop beats, and psychedelia – a wild genre pastiche in which elements of each sound transition into the other with an effortless, languid fluidity.
Nostalgia and memory are curious things: more than mere sensations, The Avalanches understand them as instrumental tools, essential to personal growth and our connection with others. 'We Will Always Love You' is an exercise in mourning that makes use of these powerful, oft neglected tools. The memories and themes on display on this 71 minute double LP are equally personal and universal, as each track approaches an element of lost love, sweet sentimentality, and human interconnectedness through the lens of a new genre, new tone, and new collaborator. The tracks themselves are often punctuated by recurring audio logs, recalling heartbreaking accounts and long-lost moments of connection, distorted by static and the passage of time.
But do not be misled by this grim subject matter: this is not an album that wallows in sorrow or loss. Despite being predicated on failed relationships, this is a vibrant and colorful celebration of that failure: an assessment of its memory, and a joyous declaration of gratitude. Imagine how beautiful something must have been to feel so much pain in response to its loss？How bright your life must burn to find yourself submerged this deep in the dark？This darkness, and the album itself, is a respite, not a prison. The tender-hearted subject is not grasping for a spark of light: they are at peace as they glow in the dark.
And oh, how this album glows! The persistent, shimmering hook of “Interstellar Love” fades in and out of focus as if orbiting around your own personal star. Later, “Oh The Sunn’s” infectious groove begs you to a dark disco dancefloor flanked by dour deep chanting onlookers, sinking the listener into deeper depths. All before the bright beat of “We Go On” grabs you by the heartstrings and pulls you up, into the warm sunlight, leaping upwards a key or three with triumphant zeal. The Avalanches, 20 years on, are authoritative in their sampling abilities: confidently navigating the ebb and flow of a multitude of mis-matching sounds and subgenres like the masters of plunder phonics they are.
However, as eclectic as this album is in its composition and sound, nearly every track is immediate and approachable - welcoming listeners in with melodies and rhythms that have universal appeal; harmonious and distinct, yet well-fitting pieces of a larger puzzle. Like the album’s subject and listeners, The Avalanches find themselves bolstered by their own human connections: a cavalcade of guest talent ranging from electronic wizards like Jamie XX & Cornelius to psych rock legends like The Flaming Lips & MGMT. The latter of whom delivers heartbreaking recollections of lost love on the warm, infectious nu disco rhythms of “The Divine Chorus:”
"I still remember you,"
"The way I dreamed of you,"
"The way I hoped that you imagined I’d be."
Each of these lines, whispered in your ear like tiny miracles, move and guide the listener through this musical mourning process. In 2020, The Avalanches are less concerned with crafting quirky college radio singles and are more focused on the big picture: on conjuring a celestial collage of memory, of manufacturing new perspective, based on universal tenets of human emotion: all on a galactic scale. That scale is vast. And perhaps the album’s greatest weakness – that it’s length and scope are massive, bordering on laborious. While the 71 minute runtime seems justified, given the lengthy list of excellent guest spots, it results in a handful of forgettable tracks and moments, most of which are sequestered to the back half of this mammoth double LP.
This is a forgivable sin, however, as the emotional catharsis offered on 'We Will Always Love You' is well worth the patience it demands. After all, mourning is not a brief process: it comes in waves. And forgiveness is ultimately a conscious decision to let go, often in absence of any real closure. This sorrow and ambiguity is conveyed beautifully as 'We Will Always Love You' guides you on a stellar journey through massive mindscapes and precious moments. What you’re left with is a treasured memory, as quiet, as remote, and as bright as the stars above.