Where To Start With... The Avalanches
In the grand scheme of things, 16 years is not a particularly long time, barely even a blip on the timeline of human existence. But apply that same timeframe to the gap between a debut album and it's follow-up and it starts to feel like a very, very long time indeed.
To put this into some sort of perspective, when The Avalanches released the plunderphonic masterpiece that is their debut album, Since I Left You, the iPod had yet to be invented, let alone the iPhone. Youtube didn't exist, nor did Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia or even Myspace. London's skyline was yet to feature either a gherkin or a shard of glass and the Euro had yet to enter circulation. In short, the world into which the Australian group's second album is released is seismically different to the one which greeted their first. So what took them so long?
Well, the reasons for the album's delay are many, as has become clear in the last few days. Robbie Chater revealed that he'd been diagnosed with a couple of different autoimmune diseases during the mid-2000s, putting him out of action for around three years.
Then there was the sample clearance. Since I Left You reportedly utilises somewhere in the region of 3,500 samples in the course of its 60-minute running time and even if you discount the fact that every one of these needs to be cleared with the original copyright owner, something like that still takes a very long time to put together. “People would give permission for us to use the sample”, Chater recently told Pitchfork, “and then a certain amount of time would elapse and they would Google who the band is and be like, 'Oh shit, I can ask for more money.' That sort of thing took forever.” Couple that with the band's notorious perfectionism and legal wrangles between the owner of their label, Modular, and Universal Music Group, then you start to realise that a follow-up was never going to come quickly.
It's not even as if 16 years is the longest gap between albums either – fans of My Bloody Valentine had to wait a little over 22 years for a follow-up to Loveless – but what has made the wait so excruciating in this case is that there have been persistent rumours about a second album for a full decade now. Even some of the most optimistic fans – hell, even some of the band's members – had given up hope that the public would ever get to hear it.
But hear it we shall. Wildflower arrives in stores today under a weight of expectation, but it does not disappoint. Even though the album is, like its predecessor, heavily reliant on samples, The Avalanches have always augmented this with live performances in one way or another and on Wildflower there's an impressive and diverse list of guest appearances. Danny Brown and MF Doom both lend their inimitable vocals to the album's lead-off single 'Frankie Sinatra', while elsewhere the extensive guest roster includes Mercury Rev's Jonathan Donahue, Ariel Pink, Biz Markie, Jennifer Herrera, Father John Misty and Toro Y Moi, just to name a few.
Comprising 21 tracks, Wildflower feels very much like a natural successor to Since I Left You in the sense that it is, like their debut, best consumed as one long piece of music. This is a musical journey full of surprises and delights, from the warped fairground calypso of 'Frankie Sinatra', through the psychedelic rock of 'Colours' and the disco-tinged 'Subways', to the Beatles-sampling 'The Noisy Eater'. Everywhere you look there's something interesting – Jonathan Donahue's vocals on 'Kaleidoscpoic Lover', Danny Brown's verses on 'The Wozard of Iz', the Beach Boys vibes of 'Live a Lifetime Love' – but nothing ever sticks around long enough to get boring; Wildflower is restless, uplifting and totally absorbing.
Of all the teasing statements about the album from the group and those at their label over the past few years, perhaps the one that sums up Wildflower the best came from The Avalanches themselves all the way back in 2007, when they said it sounded “so f***in' party you will die”. They really weren't kidding.
You can find the video for 'Frankie Sinatra' below, beneath that we've picked out five other gems that prove there's always been more to The Avalanches than just the music on Since I Left You...
Taken from their debut EP El Producto, 'Rap Fever' sounds like the middle ground between the Beastie Boys and Dr. Octagon, but even though this and the rest of the seven-track release sounds quite different to their later output, you can hear the seeds of what was to come being sown and their use of samples is no less inventive.
A track featured on their 2002 tour EP At Last Alone, 'Everyday' has a disco/house vibe similar to some of the more upbeat tracks on Since I Left You. It's playful, sun-drenched and loads of fun.
'Since I Left You'
The title track from their seminal debut, 'Since I Left You' is a pure slice of summer that blends samples of Rose Royce, Tony Mottola, The Duprees and Lamont Dozier, among others, and came complete with a video featuring ballet-dancing miners. It's brilliant.
Possibly the stand-out track on Since I Left You, 'Frontier Psychiatrist' features the impressive turntable skills of the group's former scratch supremo Dexter Fabay. The four-time Australian DJ champion left The Avalanches in 2003, but not before leaving his indelible mark on the group's sound, particularly on this track, including the wry, self-referential samples from John Waters' 1981 film Polyester (“That boy needs therapy...”).
'Stalking To A Stranger'
A remix of 'Talking To A Stranger' from Australian rock band Hunters & Collectors, this track emerged in 2012 and became one of the most encouraging signs that The Avalanches really were back in the studio working on new material. Their version takes the song into dancefloor territory and shows their skill as remixers is on a par with their abilities as producers. Bit of a hidden gem, this, but well worth adding to your collection.