Review: The Avalanches, Wildflower

After waiting so many years, it’s worth the extra patience to let the Avalanches’s Wildflower sink in.

The Avalanches, WildflowerThough the Avalanches’s precise sampling of music and film clips can create a sound detached from place and time, Wildflower comes with a reminder that a great deal of time has indeed passed since their 2000 debut, Since I Left You. The album also comes with an expectation that the group will recreate their earlier work’s leftfield catchiness while at the same time display some kind of creative growth. And especially when so many artists through so many platforms are dealing in instant gratification, Wildflower faces an inevitable truth: that the longer people wait for an album, the more immediate and brilliant they expect it to be.

Not so much a dizzying, hyperactive mash-up like Since I Left You, Wildflower is a roomier, more ruminative collection of cinematic segues and loose, looping collage pop, playing out in impressionistic waves of pop-culture samples and field recordings. The last stretch of the album in particular (from “Over the Turnstiles” on) captures this network of soundscapes most vividly, even rendering the kitschy leanings of Since I Left You (as well as some of the hookiest material here) a novelty. For those fascinated by the Avalanches’s process, as opposed to merely impressed by its most endearing results, Wildflower is a rewarding and challenging listen.

“If I Was a Folkstar” and “Colours,” which feature Toro y Moi and Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue, respectively, are the first exposure to the Avalanches’s more experimental side. “Folkstar” sounds as if a tape deck got stuck on the music that might introduce a film’s dream sequence; it takes several spins to wrap one’s head around its loop of ascending flutes, jangly guitar, syncopated bass, and swarms of background vocals. “Colours” is a similarly sunny tune run through thick programming, using a complex time signature and multi-layering of Donahue’s voice to achieve a disorienting echo effect—akin to My Bloody Valentine in a very good mood. Slow-moving earworm riffs abound, buried in dense and trippy production: in the jazz guitar of closer “Saturday Night Inside Out,” which is like Dire Straits reworking Tears for Fears’s “Head Over Heels”; on the bending surf-pop chorus of “Live a Lifetime Love”; even in the wriggling synths of “Stepkids,” which sound like telephone buttons played in perfect rhythm. Cleverly subdued arrangements allow an abundance of the Avalanches’s compelling tinkering.

By contrast, the bizarro moments on Wildflower sometimes seem like empty jokes. “Frankie Sinatra” one-ups the Gorillaz for faux-gangster bounce (“Please Mr. Officer, I only had some vodka/Little marijuana, just a few Vicodin,” raps Danny Brown), but its coupling of party rap and big band gets tiresome, and is only rescued by a final twist where the Beatles’s “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” leads seamlessly into an extended sample of “My Favorite Things.” No such moment can save “The Noisy Eater,” a childish pairing of “Come Together” and Biz Markie’s lyrics about his favorite breakfast foods, though the following instrumental interlude, “Wildflower,” serves as a palate cleanser. Other minute-long tracks, including the banjo-folk “Park Music” and the winding “Over the Turnstiles,” quietly outshine any attempts at big, bombastic songs.

The Avalanches are smart to avoid too many showy moments on Wildflower. Besides its short segues, the album features long transitions between songs and other breaks in its sonic action—as if the group was trying to prevent anyone from labeling the album a dance mix. “Because I’m Me,” for instance, starts with a warped version of its own hook, while “Going Home” continues the disco-in-molasses groove of the preceding “Subway” with the bass and lyrics cuing in and out—like listening to the song “Subway” on the subway. These decisions don’t make for an easy or instant album, but rather for a foggy sound that reveals its splendor and shape over time. And after waiting so many years, it’s worth the extra patience to let Wildflower sink in.

 Label: Astralwerks  Release Date: July 8, 2016  Buy: Amazon

Jonathan Wroble

Jonathan Wroble's writing has appeared on cokemachineglow and at the Associated Press. He holds a degree in media studies and communication from the University of Pennsylvania. He currently lives in New York City, and works as an editor and writer on book projects.

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