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The Avalanches' 'Wildflower' is a Psychedelic Masterpiece for the DJ Age

Music ReviewAndy TabelingComment

Denied a new studio album for nearly the entirety of the new millennium, it’s now been close to 16 years since the Avalanches left us last, with only a few incredible mixes, scattered DJ sets, and inklings of rumors about a follow-up to tease the sizable fanbase of the Australian group. As collaborators started leaking, the group finally dropped “Frankie Sinatra” at the beginning of the summer, with the full LP, Wildflower, arriving in a month. Despite surely being weighed down by the expectations, rumors, hype-train, whatever you choose to call it, the direction The Avalanches chose isn’t quite analogous to the now-classic Since I Left You, but the record we’ve been give is utterly unique, gorgeous, fun and completely worthy of it’s legendary predecessor. Now, The Avalanches have released one of the best records of both 2000 and 2016.

Crate diggers beware - there’s even a track that features zero (!) samples on this album (Spoiler: it’s “Colours” and it’s great). Wildflower de-emphasizes the sample-crazy element of the first record in favor of a tonal consistency anchored by a summer psychedelic vibe fitting for its release date. Perhaps the album that comes to mind most is The Beatles’ Abbey Road, a work that also maintains a remarkable consistency of tone despite its diverse songwriting chops and scatterbrained tendencies, but anchored by warm, gentle psychedelia. So strong is the comparison between the two records, that Abbey Road’s opening track “Come Together” is sung by a children’s choir in “The Noisy Eater."

However, psychedelic music is hardly the only genre that appears over Wildflower’s runtime. Alongside The Avalanches’ traditional dance music roots (across all eras), calypso, late-80’s rap, folk, funk, disco and even classical music make appearances. Fans shouldn’t be too afraid the group has lost its roots, though, and the true opener is a good indication of this: “Because of Me” opens with a gorgeous soul sample, but cedes most of its inventiveness after the initial sample over to New York hip-hop duo Camp Lo, who bring their A-game to the unforgettable beat and make it their own.

Rappers rule Wildflower. Danny Brown drops 3 of the most memorable verses on the album on “Frankie Sinatra” and “The Wozard of Iz," while Biz Markie’s delivery of the wonderful, playful “The Noisy Eater” is vintage hip-hop joy, and it’s one of the album’s best songs, and easily it’s silliest moment. These MCs (along with the previously mentioned rappers, MF Doom, and A.Dd+ also appear) are put on beats that are outside their comfort zones, but the group put them in their best position to succeed, re-contextualizing hip-hop in diverse ways, such as the wonderful “Live a Lifetime Love," which samples Beach Boys-esque psych as the backdrop for a drug (and later drug-bust) anthem.

Other big collaborators that feature prominently on the record include Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue, and Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bundick. Bundick only sings one track (the gorgeous “If I Was a Folkstar”, an ode to his now-wife), but it’s an absolute triumph, fusing both artists’ dance sensibilities into a perfect, subtle groove. Donahue dominates the latter half of the record, including “Harmony” and “Kaleidoscopic Lovers," that forms the backbone of the record’s psych influences. Mercury Rev fans will even notice Donahue’s singing saw that appears on that groups’ most famous records. It’s these songs that start to trigger the album’s wonderful final quarter, whose muted conclusion feels like the logical conclusion of a perfect summer day.

It’s worth remembering that The Avalanches are a product of DJ culture, and know so much about how to a structure a record. As more-than capable DJs, The Avalanches do a great job managing the ebb and flow of a performance through diversity of songs and giving listeners a little time to breathe. Wildflower succeeds in spades in both of these fronts. To combat the relatively long run-time, The Avalanches rarely spend time on one idea before moving to the next. At first hint of too much of a good thing, a new shiny object appears to fix your ears upon. As for space and air, the record uses vocal samples and small instrumental pieces to break up the record, and they feel just as essential and enjoyable as the other pieces of the record, giving the record an expansive feel without ever overstaying their welcome. The one time the ideas hang around a bit is towards the beginning of the record, where both “Frankie Sinatra” and “Subways” feel a little too long compared to both songs around them and relative to the number of elements in their tracks. “Sinatra” gets such wonderful vocal performances that this feels very nitpicky, but “Subways” fails to justify including a separate outro included. However, these are minor quips on a wonderfully sequenced record. In particular, the subdued ending works beautifully, as Silver Jews’ David Berman delivers a stunning spoken-word performance over one of the quietest pieces off the record, “Saturday Night Inside Out,” a perfect track for a summer twilight turning to dusk.

So the record we got may not have been the record we expected, but in many ways it’s the sum of something more. While it may frustrate those looking for a frantic atmosphere or a more plunderphonics-influenced sound, Wildflower’s winning ideas, great collaborations and excellent sequencing have made it one of 2016’s most essential records. It’s the perfect record to play on an sweaty afternoon on your porch with your friends before going out in the sweltering heat. You can finally stop thinking about Since I Left You and just enjoy what's here now.