Few albums reach the towering reputation of The Avalanches’ debut studio album, Since I Left You. Released back in 2000 to universal critical acclaim, Since I Left You garnered praise for many reasons, but particularly for consisting entirely of an approximate 3,500 samples from various records, drawing from a number of genres, all mashed together into an eclectic and energetic disco-pop gem.

This sound collage approach to The Avalanches’ work is one which inevitably takes time, and with time comes ever-increasing expectations. In the case of Wildflower, The Avalanches have had a colossal 16 year build-up of excitement and expectation to compete with. They were never going to top their debut, one of the most cherished dance records of all time, one that is rich and evocative, effortlessly able to tap into an uplifting, spirited feeling. What they’ve produced with Wildflower is instead a wholly new experience. Where Since I Left You gave us rhythmic, dancey beats, Wildflower gives us easy-going, playful, and summery tunes. Where Since I Left You is bittersweet, Wildflower is undoubtedly positive.

The album begins in true Avalanches style, with a clatter of samples, faraway chit-chat and laughter, which perfectly paint the picture of a vibrant summertime street party, setting the album’s tone from the get-go. Quickly shifting into the second track, one of the better songs of the album, Because I’m Me, we’re lifted into a sweet-sounding mash-up of soul and funk samples, elevated further by live vocals from hip-hop duo Camp Lo. Wildflower utilises live features across the breadth of the album and in the case of Because I’m Me it pays off very well. There are, however, certain segments where features can seem ill-placed; one example being Danny Brown’s somewhat jarring verses in the following song Frankie Sinatra. Although what begins as a significantly irritating and obtuse track, Frankie Sinatra quickly becomes an addictive earworm of a song, as maddening as it is compelling.

“For an album which became such a long-awaited myth in the music world … Wildflower is a surprisingly enjoyable eventual follow up to their debut”

The momentum doesn’t slow going into the next track Subways – easily the highlight of the album. The song is immensely captivating, with beautifully arranged vocal samples and glittering melodies giving off a grandiose feeling, Subways is one of those songs that will keep you in a groove for days. From here, the album seamlessly segues into Going Home, using most of the ideas of the previous track, whilst building upon them with modest changes. It is in this way that The Avalanches are able to produce such a rich flow through the album. This stylistic element is a staple of The Avalanches’ music and is a technique that pops up many times over the course of Wildflower.

Whether it’s the childlike melody of If I Was a Folkstar, the lush and lavish frequencies on Colours, or the calm and unwinding folky, harmonica-infused, rural interlude Zap!, the first half of the album is pretty consistent. The cartoony track The Noisy Eater then stomps into view and whilst blatantly being a bit of a parody song, it’s thoroughly enjoyable and one of Wildflower’s highlights. Biz Markie’s food-related raps entertainingly top the mash-up of boisterous cartoon samples.
The eruption of the heavenly Beach Boys’ chorus sample on Live a Lifetime of Love, the tranquil yet magnificent The Wozard of Iz, and the gorgeous, nostalgia-inducing soul loops splashed across the stunning track Sunshine are all immensely memorable and momentous sections of the second half of the album. Spattered across the tracks here and there are folky harmonicas, birdsong, samples of laughter and celebrations, vocal cuts packed with soul, and the songs themselves painted with a certain sheen that gives the album as a whole a certain cohesiveness.

As the end draws near, some of Wildflower’s momentum is lost as it crawls to a calming, yet somewhat anticlimactic finish. The glossy flourishes sprinkled across Kaleidoscope are very pretty, but ultimately, the track can feel a little meandering and directionless. Saturday Night Inside Out, the album’s closing track, trundles along with spliced vocal cuts from Father John Misty, and a charming little poem from David Berman of Silver Jews. While nice, as these last songs on Wildflower gradually descend to a slow and soothing finish, it’s hard not to find yourself wishing for something with a bit more punch.

As a whole, Wildflower is an enjoyable listen, with its comforting, more organic production, it certainly captures a mood. The quality of the tracks aren’t always consistent, with some taking a little time to warm to. Wildflower draws from so many different styles and genres that it can take some time for the project as a whole to click into place.

For an album which became such a long-awaited myth in the music world, with 16 years of lingering expectations, Wildflower is a surprisingly enjoyable eventual follow up to their debut.

Stephen Barrett @stevebarrett14


4/5

Image: Astralwerks 2016

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