The Avalanches – Wildflower
by Chris Miller (Marketing/Music Industry), published August 6th 2016
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
Although The Avalanches have waited over 15 years to release a new record, their new material attempts to rewind the clock. On their first album Since I Left You, a landmark release in sample-based music, the group gave the effect of twisting the radio dial on various stations from the 60s and 70s and creating chopped grooves from the music that came out. The fragments came from another time, but The Avalanches were still able to keep their emotional significance. Instead of bringing this sampled music into the new millennium with hip hop breaks and synthesized sounds, the group now has chosen to revive the sounds of 60s psychedelic pop through modern musical techniques.
The organic samples help make the music feel less locked in and synthetic, and a panoramic instrumental mix gives the feel of the era before stereo recording. Vocal guests who take influence from 60s pop (Toro Y Moi) and don’t (Danny Brown) provide short cadences or vocal melodies to spice up the instrumentals. The group’s dance and hip hop influences still emerge occasionally, but overall this record is much more subdued.
The first few songs are most reminiscent of the band’s earlier work. Album opener “Because I’m Me” serves as an update of the group’s former sound palette and features infectious horn and string lines that are the band’s bread and butter. Additionally, Sonny Cheeba’s rap verses are placed tastefully and maintain the instrumental’s energy. “Frankie Sinatra” is another upbeat song indicative of the band’s first album, but the repeating chorus sample and melodic progression lose their novelty as the song progresses. Danny Brown’s verses are entertaining, even if they have to fight with the louder instrumental for attention.
The group treads into new territory and successfully captures the entrancing vibe of 60s psychedelia with the song “If I was a Folkstar.” The cycling instrumental swerves in and out as samples fly past and wake the listener from a dream state for just a moment. Toro Y Moi fits very nicely in this environment with some memorable vocal lines and soaring harmonies towards the end of the track.
Wildflower treads further the path of 60s pop music with the occasional hip hop beat or fruity synthesizer, but the tunes falter without the strong grooves and memorable melodic lines the band usually dishes. Songs such as “Colours” and “Harmony”, while offering decent vocal lines, crumble as they are not able to maintain energy or direction. “Sunshine” takes about two minutes to lock into a steady rhythm and merely filters out parts into the background to create dead space. When the instrumentation finally bursts, the vocal sample has already worn out its welcome. The interludes are sadly brief, though they present some memorable ideas from the spectrum of 60s psychedelia.
The last songs on the record bring the group into focus again. “Kaleidoscopic Lovers,” probably the most psychedelic song on the album, may be a bit packed with samples, but the winning vocal line and warped synth hold the tune together. The skipping sampled flute lines on “Stepkids” catch the ear, and the building strings in the latter part are very moving. “Saturday Night Inside Out” rounds out the album as waves of murky melodies flood both channels.
This album is in many ways like being caught in a hallucinogenic dream: the music slowly drifts away before finding its footing in towards the end. The highlights from the record still justify The Avalanches’ long-awaited return, and hopefully the group won’t be stuck in a creative dream state for another 15 years.
Recommended Tracks: “Because I’m Me,” “If I Was a Folkstar,” “Stepkids”