‘Wildflower’ is loaded with obscurity, and worth the sixteen-year wait since its iconic predecessor.
The Avalanches made a lasting impression with ‘Since I Left You’, an album that encapsulated a kind of nostalgia in disorder. It strung together decades of samples that nobody could have anticipated would actually work: but they did. Band member Robbie Chater said the original theme was searching for love, but that was abandoned once they decided that the concept was going to emerge much more obscure.
Sixteen years later, they have released ‘Wildflower’. The Avalanches have retained the same ability to combine the romantic, psychedelic pop samples with Beastie Boys-like hip-hop beats and make something beautifully elevating. Now, however, there are some very recognisable additions to vocals – for example, in the form of Danny Brown and MF Doom on ‘Frankie Sinatra’. The track begins with Calypso-singer Wilmoth Houdini‘s ‘Bobby Sox Idol’, which is then accompanied by tuba, trumpet and clarinet samples, followed by Brown‘s verse, and finished with an instrumental of The Sound of Music‘s ‘My Favourite Things’. It’s not the album’s best offering, but it certainly showcases just how innovative The Avalanches can be.
On their previous album, title track ‘Since I Left You’ and ‘Electricity’ have an exhilarating, pop-like feel. In contrast, ‘Flight Tonight’ and ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ abandon their listeners and take on a mysterious, surreal tone and we are consequently unsure how to react. ‘Wildflower‘, as a collective, replaces these confusing sample combinations with a contextual range of characters and emotions. ‘Zap!’ is a wonderful 120 seconds of ethereal melodies interlaced with a harmonica. A monologue featured in Martin Bell and Mary Ellen Mark’s 1984 documentary ‘Streetwise’ then plays, with street kid Rat’s own words: “I love to fly. It’s just you’re alone, peace and quiet, nothing around you but clear blue sky… The only bad part about flying is having to come back down to the fucking world.” The original monologue is a brief moment of escape and clarity in a heartbreaking story of lost youth, perfectly used here in a similar hopeful way.
Though some slices of speech and sound effects (like the record player popping) are at times distracting, the hours of commitment it takes to master this level of sample-based storytelling is nonetheless impressive. ‘Stepkids‘ is a definite highlight and works as a standalone single; poppy in nature but with the husky vocals of Royal Trux‘ Jennifer Herrema. Biz Markie conducts the whimsical track ‘The Noisy Eater’ which inexplicably fades into a kid’s choir of The Beatles‘ ‘Come Together’. These tracks do not have one alpha; one singular icon at the foreground. Instead, recognisable voices and samples interrupt each other in an effort to pack sixty years of pop music into a one-hour album – and the result is outstanding.
‘Wildflower’ is out now on XL Recordings
This Avalanches review was written by Eleanor Wallace, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Stephen Butchard.