By Ché Salgado
Artist: The Avalanches
Released: July 1, 2016
There were so many people who wanted this album. It was confusing because The Avalanches had a fairly good legacy; They came, they saw, they conquered in the form of making the “Rock City” single, making El Producto, signing to Modular, putting on a sort of Beastie Boys-like performance on Australian TV in 1998, which was just gold, and then making one of the best records of all time, 2000’s Since I Left You. Then, to really bring it all back home, they just gradually went away, leaving myth and conjecture to fill in the blank spaces they hadn’t.
It was unnerving to hear that they were coming back, especially with a record bearing a name as generic as Wildflower. Though it was uplifting to see the cover was a tribute to Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On, all the goodwill this generated was burned away in the carnival dumpster fire that is “Frankie Sinatra.” Suddenly, the realization came that this record had the potential to mess everything up. And then, in June, they released “Colours” and “Subways” which really did have that classic Avalanches sound and technique and suddenly everything was up in the air. Then, it was released a week early, on a Thursday night, and now it’s here. It has “Frankie Sinatra,” a banal name and it’s really good.
Time is essential to the narrative of The Avalanches because the length of time from their conception to their rise to fame was so short, establishing them as promising upstarts. In contrast, it’s the incredible amount of time that has passed since their last record to Wildflower that spawned the expectations and the myth, almost to Detox-like levels. Time has a central role in the music as well as the story, especially in their biggest statement to date, Since I Left You. Time is so valuable to the Avalanches because one of their biggest tricks is the blurring of time. Their music has achieved timelessness simply by their choice to pick samples from all eras of popular music history. And perhaps news of this record was so unnerving because this record has what Since I Left You didn’t, and that’s features.
To see that this record would feature the likes of Toro y Moi, Danny Brown and Father John Misty was a huge red flag because it put a date to this music. It established a time that this music was made, an action mutinous to the entire idea of their time-traveling sound. Ironically, it’s because of the introduction of features that “The Noisy Eater” with Biz Markie works so well because the choice in 2016 of Markie, known principally for a hit single from 1989, is another example of time-blurring savvy of the Avalanches.
A purist might call Wildflower a sin, an act against the memory we had of The Avalanches as they were, but to do that is to be ignorant. If one listens back to their mixes around 1999-2000, there’s raps all over the place (found on Wildflower in “Because I’m Me” with Camp Lo delivering the verses,) there’s less than obscure samples, even samples of the music of John, Paul, George and Ringo (found here on “The Noisy Eater” and “Livin’ Underwater.”) It’s possible that nothing can ever live up to the plunderphonic party that is Since I Left You, but perhaps we were a bit misguided as to what made that record great. It wasn’t that there were no features, and it sure wasn’t a total “crate-digging” factor; for God’s sake, there’s a Madonna sample on that record. Maybe we were even misguided as to what The Avalanches were. It seems clear now that the Avalanches are not just the people that made Since I Left You. With Wildflower, that record ceases to define them. Wildflower isn’t a Since I Left You 2. It was never trying to be and it didn’t have to be and perhaps that’s what those of us worried about the legacy of The Avalanches forgot. It may be different, sure, but in more ways than one, it is indelibly a The Avalanches record and it lives up to the name.