By Jason Herring, July 14 2016 —
I was a toddler when the first album by The Avalanches came out 16 years ago. That album, Since I Left You, was a marvel made up almost entirely of samples — an estimated 3,500 — woven together as one continuous, hour-long song. No one has made a record with the same scope before or since, and even though I only first heard Since I Left You five years ago, it feels like I’ve known the music all my life.
So even though a follow-up to that album had been rumoured for years, many were skeptical about The Avalanches’ ability to replicate their zeitgeist of a debut. Luckily, the Australian turntablists dispell those fears with Wildflower, an album that vividly captures feelings of musical nostalgia and joy.
The Avalanches mostly stick to their sample-based music on the new record, but bring in rappers to add verses to some tracks. When this works, it’s stunning. Camp Lo’s rapping on opener “Because I’m Me” is hard to decipher, but captures the elation that characterizes old-school hip-hop. Biz Markie also lends his voice to a hilarious end on the cartoony “The Noisy Eater.”
So much of the joy in Wildflower is hearing a snippet or a melody that sounds familiar and experiencing the emotions that accompany that music. For instance, “Frankie Sinatra,” is a calypso cut featuring some less-than great verses from Detroit rapper Danny Brown. The song feels off, lacking the subtlety of The Avalanche’s work, until it abruptly turns into a woodwind melody of The Sound of Music’s “My Favourite Things.” The contrast is incredible.
The rest of the album is filled with moments of staggering beauty. “Harmony” embraces the childhood wonder of music, while “Zap!” is a melancholic exploration of that period of life. “Subways” is the best pop song of the year. “Stepkids” is a psychedelic pop masterpiece lifted straight from 1967 and “If I Was a Folkstar” bounces between sorrow and delight.
Each track feels different, but it’s impossible to peg where those feelings start and end.
It’s easy to fall into hyperbole when talking about new music, especially when it’s surrounded by as much history and anticipation as Wildflower is. But the album feels like a monumental success, blending disparate sounds into gorgeous and fun music. I don’t know if I’m going to want to listen to anything else all summer.