The Avalanches – Wildflower review by Nigel Moyes
We are nearing 16 years since The Avalanches introduced themselves with Since I Left You, their debut and now-legendary sample extravaganza. Now, after a lead up that has included a mock documentary trailer and secret hotline numbers, they’re back with Wildflower.
When you break things down, this means that they’ve been busy making roughly four minutes of music per year on average since they *cough* left us. Compare that with King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard who probably wrote a 12 part jazz-metal album inspired by the folklore of Icelandic goat herders since you last went to the toilet and you’ve got two opposite ends of the spectrum.
This is not a fair comparison we’ll grant you that. Tortoise and the hare, and so on. But with fewer members, mixed reactions to initial single releases, a new musical landscape and a hype train that threatens to consume the album before it has even arrived, does The Avalanches’ Wildflower cut the mustard? We’ll briefly run through each track, before giving our overall impression.
Wildflower is out July 8, but you can listen to an exclusive stream on Apple Music as of today.
‘The Leaves Were Falling’
The intro is a short snippet of a 1950s homemade recording by somniloquist Dion McGregor, who would often narrate his own dreams at conversational volume. The piece sampled, ‘Midget City’, immediately places us in bustling downtown LA in the summer.
‘Because I’m Me’
The Avalanches like to sample some weird shit. It is known. Featuring Moog scientist Mort Garson’s ‘Symphony For A Spider Plant’, from the album Plantasia (literally music that was designed to invigorate your indoor plants), ‘Because I’m Me’ features an absolutely incredible sample of ‘Why Can’t I Get It Too?’ by Six Boys in Trouble, a group of troubled teens from the housing projects of New York who were given basic homemade instruments by folk researchers who recorded their completely untrained performances. Camp Lo’s rap is superb and the Jackson 5-ish beat propels this track nicely.
‘Frankie Sinatra’ feat. Danny Brown
Featuring Wilmouth Houdini’s ‘Bobby Sox Idol’, ‘Frankie Sinatra’ was the first taste we’d all had of Wildflower weeks prior. It was met with mixed reviews, but in the context of the album it makes perfect sense. It seems that this was never meant to be their big radio comeback, their next ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ – here’re plenty of those coming later in the album. This, seemingly, is a comical fanfare, heralding The Avalanches’ return to save us from rubbish music forever.
‘Subways’ was the third morsel on offer after the hype train left the station in the lead up to release. Featuring the track of the same name by ’80s no wave/post-punk legend Chandra (who was 12 at the time!), it oozes and undulates as the laid-back groove and its repetitive nature put you on a train out of the city and into the greatest summer road trip of all time.
‘Going Home’ is a two-minute extension on ‘Subways’. The disco groove builds and the bass drops so many times that you start to expect a huge dance break to drop in. This is The Avalanches, though – things don’t come that easily. You’ll be rewarded for your patience immediately, however, with…
‘If I Was a Folkstar’ feat. Toro Y Moi
The narrative running through this album, that of a teenage summer road trip out of town with your mates, is continued here literally and musically as a Queens of the Stone Age radio sample from their track ‘Millionaire’ is used to introduce the dreamy, yet still pulsing ‘If I Was a Folkstar’. The falsetto vocal, high pitched organ samples and chimes layered atop a tight bassline, and percussion that pushes and pulls, make for a surprisingly good driving song.
‘Colours’ feat. Jonathan Donahue
‘Colours’ is a song described by the band as being “inspired by the way a song can actually change your day, make the world look different, changing the way you perceive light refracting through the atmosphere for the rest of the afternoon”. Jonathan Donohue’s dreamy vocals provide an awesome anchor-point for this trippy love-fest. It’s really hard to believe that there isn’t a single sample in this song; everything is so carefully invoked that it blends flawlessly with the rest of the album.
A bizarre interlude featuring reversed electronics that lead into a beautiful orchestral movement, signalling the coming of a definite album highlight:
‘The Noisy Eater’ feat. Biz Markie
What’s that you say? No one would ever clear The Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ for use as a sample on an Avalanches record? ANY record for that matter? WRONG. Yoko Ono and Paul ‘Baby Face’ McCartney PERSONALLY cleared a children’s choir version of the classic for use, and oh is it used beautifully. Reduced to being a tagline for a breakfast cereal jingle, the cheery chorus heralds the second half of what is now clearly an incredible record. Biz Markie chomps and chews on this tribute to Brian Wilson’s ‘Vegetables’ as he runs you through his breakfast and lunch habits. This song sounds like a cartoon, and it’s great.
Honky tonk piano takes over where ‘The Noisy Eater’ left off, its cereal commercial-style voiceover still continuing as we move into a 6/8 interlude replete with bird noises and flute samples. Classic Avalanches.
As the bird noises make way for the orchestral opening of ‘Harmony’, The Avalanches treat us to the most Since I Left You style track heard so far on Wildflower. Flutes and theremins are expertly sampled as melodic devices to accompany the infectious groove, while the vocals spell out ‘H-A-R-M-O-N-Y’. Halfway into an already impressive album and you realise they’ve only just scratched the surface of exploring new ground, while still paying homage to the old.
‘Live a Lifetime Love’
And just like that, the old Avalanches are superseded by the new. A stomping groove takes over as another hip-hop inspired track, featuring raps from A.Dd+ (Paris Pershun and Slim Gravy), pushes us further into the belly of this long-awaited follow-up.
A trippy acoustic/Indian interlude, kind of like a Beach Boys meets Maharishi-era-Beatles sound bite, it moves seamlessly into…
‘Livin’ Underwater (is something wild)’
A beautifully strange soundscape featuring a hypnotically repetitive vocal refrain of “Livin’ underwater is something wild” – the atmosphere they have created on this album really is something else. Take a moment and get ready for the next one…
‘The Wozard of Iz’ feat. Danny Brown
Wow. Just… wow. Heard briefly in their documentary-style teaser trailer, this Danny Brown track will blow you out of the water. As the samples and effects keep building and building, you’ll remember that time you thought to yourself “16 years… wonder if they’re still any good?”, and laugh heartily at your earlier self’s stupidity. Danny’s entrance isn’t until late in the track, but boy it packs a punch. This one is a clear standout, and one I’m sure we’ll be hearing on repeat everywhere this year.
‘Over the Turnstyles’
A suitably happy, post-orgasmic carnival interlude to chill you out after all the jumping around you just did in your room/car/workplace.
Repetition is the key to a great Avalanches song. Repetition is the key to a great Avalanches song. Repetition is the ke- Chimes, tambourines and twinkly samples accompany a ’60s funk beat that brings a couple of Dilla tracks to mind as the repetition of the word ‘sunshine’ (for an uncomfortably long time) drills itself happily into your memory.
A beautiful and wavy arrangement serves as the perfect backdrop for the vocal sample of Harpers Bazaar’s ‘Debutante Ball’. The interludes on this album are not only sonically pleasing, but also serve as points in a journey and help to create a brilliantly-pieced-together story.
With an almost Latin-sounding ostinato, ‘Kaleidoscopic Lovers’ is a slightly more uptempo tune than the previous few. Disjointed, sometimes reversed, but always dreamy, it heralds the beginning of the end as the vocal (which sounds like Ben Gibbard of Postal Service fame, but we can’t find any evidence to back that up) provides a great bookend with its various hooks of “At night when I dream, leaving my body like a bird”, and “Wildflowers dance with me” – melancholic, yet pleasant all the same. It’s sad to be ending the album soon, but what a lovely way to go out.
‘Stepkids’ feat. Jennifer Herrema & Warren Ellis
A sweet and bouncy shuffle accompaniment is the least likely partner to Herrema’s gravelly, bitter vocals, but it works in so many ways. As she growls “What would you do for a dollar?”, we can’t help but think that this could be, in some way, The Avalanches’ response to those who criticise them for taking so long. In actuality though, this song is about being young and lost.
‘Saturday Night Inside Out’ feat Father John Misty
The album closer is a reworking of an unreleased demo ‘A Cowboy Overflow of the Heart’ feat. David Berman, and proves to be an amazing track to finish off an amazing album, with Berman’s mystical, highly emotional spoken word musings accompanying the laid-back verses before the chorus kicks in with the party. We’re big fans of Father John Misty but, for the life of us, couldn’t hear what was sampled or where he may have been featured on this track – perhaps it is his voice that fills the background with harmonies as Berman’s monologue rolls on. This track ends the album beautifully, with its ecstatic choruses taking us home from this summer road trip on a high.
While there are quite a few stylistic choices here that differ from their debut album – namely its stronger focus on hip hop – Wildflower still flows just as well as Since I Left You, with no gaps and no pointless filler.
Wildflower is a story, from start to finish. Take one track away and, no matter which one, you have a less cohesive experience. This cohesion doesn’t just apply within the album, but also within the Avalanches canon, as their sophomore album is a logical, advanced and utterly beautiful continuation of their first, even after all these years.
Some people will love this album just for the sake of loving it; the hype is that real. This means, of course, some will hate it purely to subvert said hype. Either way, this is a complete album; a piece of work so patiently considered that, love it or hate it, it cannot be denied the appreciation it deserves.
The wait was worth it.