ALBUM REVIEW: 'Wildflower' by The Avalanches
  • WEDNESDAY, JULY 27, 2016

  • Posted by: Robert Steiner

It's been a long 16 years for fans of The Avalanches, the Melbourne based electronic group who formed back in the late 90s. The group exploded onto the scene with their debut album, Since I Left You, an intricately crafted grab-bag of samples and innovative songs that set them up to be the next hitmakers in the electronic scene. However, as crazy as it sounds, we're finally hearing their much-anticipated follow-up, Wildflower, for the first time since it was announced back in 2005.

Obviously, many fans and first-time listeners were extremely curious about The Avalanches' return. Did The Avalanches pick up where they left off and delivered a collection of wildly unique and oddly compelling tracks, or are they another casualty of the sophomore slump? Here is my track-by-track review and initial first impression of Wildflower:


"The Leaves Were Falling"

This intro track is literally just that, an intro. It's essentially 15 seconds of the beginning of a live concert, complete with crowd murmur and pre-concert music. This intro is very reminiscent of the "fake concert" intro from one of the biggest records from that time, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, which makes sense since this record's supposed to be heavily influenced by late-60s psychedelia.

"Because I'm Me"

Starting off with an old soul sample, the song bursts to life about 45 seconds in, and is a memorable and strong opener to this record. It's an upbeat jam that's clearly influenced by 1970s soul, complete with a horn section and a bass line that drives the whole track. It's a good one to reel people into this record, both those who are happy to see the Avalanches again and those who are hearing them for the first time, since it's both easily enjoyable but implies we're only going deeper into the rabbit hole from here.

"Frankie Sinatra"

The lead single off this album, this unhinged calypso-influenced track is, simply put, so much fun to listen to. If this record is all about taking a journey, this would be the point where the acid hits. With a bouncy, tuba-heavy beat (seriously), verses from Danny Brown and MF Doom, and I think a Beatles sample of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite," thrown in there, this song is goddamn crazy, but man, it works so well. My one little gripe is that the album version of the song ends kind of abruptly, but that's fine since the extended mix, which is the single version, is also included at the end of the record.

"Subways" / "Going Home"

I'm including these two as a single entry because they are basically the same song. They use the exact same disco beat, and the transition so discreet I wouldn't have caught it if I hadn't been looking at my laptop screen. These tracks are definitely more about atmosphere, because aside from the disco beat, they really don't go anywhere else in terms of song structure. That said, it works in the context of the whole album since it adds to the overall setting of it. It's not a hit single by any means, but it works for what it is.

"If I Was A Folkstar"

We go from the disco to the inside of a car on this track, which features a catchy synth-led beat and vocals from Chaz Bundick of Toro y Moi. During the song, you hear someone changing the radio, flipping through CDs, and even honking cars rushing by, which is a really unique touch and helps make the world of this album feel more real. It's a really cool, mellow track that is pretty perfect for a long drive to nowhere in particular, even without the added sound effects.

"Colours"

This track just screams the late 60s, from its backwards drums and vocals to the Beach Boys-esque harmonies and singing style. This particular track really exemplifies the Avalanches' incredibly acute attention to detail, as it contains some really beautiful layering of samples and instruments to create a massive landscape of sound. Thanks to its light and free-flowing tone, it's one of those songs that you can't help but feel good listening to.

"Zap!"

This one is more of a transition track, but is still a really compelling modern take on psychedelic experimentation. It sounds like a trippy rendition of an old 1950s film score, and even uses dialogue from movies to play on that feeling. It's definitely a very cool transition, but I don't think it needed to go on for quite as long as it did.

"The Noisy Eater"

Oh man, it's Biz frickin Markie!! I'll admit, Biz has long been a guilty pleasure of mine, so when I heard him on this track, I couldn't help but feel a little giddy. Like a lot of this record, this track sounds like the LSD trip is going strong, with a really strange beat that features both the Beatles and literal chewing noises. The verses themselves are very old school Hip-Hop, I'm talking like Sugar Hill-Gang old school, so that definitely adds to this song's so-out-there-it's-good vibe.

"Wildflower"

The title track is another transition track, and it gets the job done by sending off the pervious track (it starts with, you guessed it, chewing noises) and setting the tone for the next track without overstaying its welcome.

"Harmony"

A cross between vintage soul and 60s classic rock, this track has a really solid beat and, fittingly, really luscious harmonies. Again, it has that film-score-on-drugs sound to it, this time sounding like music from an old Western or campy adventure movie. Like the majority of the album, there's a lot of sampling going on, but this on in particular is a good one for sitting down and really trying to pick out all the little literal bells and whistles hidden in this song.

"Live A Lifetime Love"

This one is a pretty cool blend of atmospheric and a hard-hitting beat, which results in a song that can function both as an indie-rock tune and a hip-hop beat. Featuring verses from A.Dd, it flows along pretty effortlessly until you're all of a sudden pulled out of the song and into a car again, this time one that's getting pulled over by the cops. Again, this is a track that wouldn't necessarily stick on its own, but in the context of the album, it's a really cool example of creating worlds both within and outside of the song, and yet still within the album. If that doesn't make sense, let me put it this way: it's trippy as hell and it's great.

"Park Music"

Another transition song, this time with banjos, acoustic guitar, and an indie-folk vibe. You really get the feeling of sitting in a circle with a bunch of hippies in the middle of a park, so the name is pretty accurate on this one.

"Livin' Underwater (Is Something Wild)"

With its Brit-rock intro and underwater noises, it almost sounds like a tribute to "Yellow Submarine" at first. Like the Beatles classic, this song shines at creating worlds through sound, starting in the ocean and seemingly making it all the way to space.

"The Wozard Of Iz"

To me, this particular track sounds the most similar to the stuff off of Since I left You, which might possibly be because they worked on this one closer to that album. It continues the 60s vibe but also features spaghetti Western-style vocal harmonies and a verse by Danny Brown, which makes for a really unique blend of genres.

"Over the Turnstiles"

Yet another transition track, and the same can be said for this one as the other ones. At this point, I feel like the album can cut back a little on the transitions, since it's already done such a good job at creating a unique atmosphere that at this point into the record, I feel like the shorter songs are kind of diminishing the overall flow.

"Sunshine"

Another bright and optimistic track, but it also sounds like theres something darker going on below the surface. Even with the happy bass line and upbeat vibe, the vocals are looped so that they almost sound like a broken record, giving a slightly unsettling feel despite the overall contentment. It even starts to rain by the songs midway point, which is a cool way of depicting happiness as it transitions into a much fouler and less joyful mood.

"Light Up"

Another transition, but it's cool enough and has plenty of interesting layering going on that I don't mind this one as much as the others. Granted, I still think it should've been either made longer into an actual song or just taken out altogether.

"Kaleidoscopic Lovers"

Marking the beginning of the low-key part of this album, this one is a laid back and easily enjoyable song that again shows its affinity for 1960s rock music, yet updates it slightly with synths and samples. Whats nice is that it's an easy listen on the surface, but also gives plenty to dig through if youre more about dissecting songs.

"Stepkids"

With Jennifer Herrema of Royal Trux on vocals, this song almost has a quality akin to Sonic Youth in terms of vocal delivery, but is backed by synths and violin rather than distorted guitar. The result is an interesting mix of garage rock with more classic and electronic influences. With its melancholy tone and mid-tempo swinging beat, it's a really good track for chilling out on a rainy day, waiting for something interesting to happen.

"Saturday Night Inside Out"

While this track has harmonies by Josh Tillman (aka Father John Misty) and some interesting spoken word by David Berman, I feel like this song is the least interesting of the album, which is a shame since it's the closer. Acting more like a straight jam-session than a wall of layers and samples, the song kind of shuffles along for a while then fades out, which is a bit of an underwhelming conclusion to the vast and strange world this album created.

Conclusion

For a 16-year gap between records, The Avalanches did a pretty damn good job. When working on an album for that long, it usually results in an album thats either way overdone or out-of-date before it even comes out (looking at you, Guns n' Roses). Wildflower, for the most part, is neither of those things, and is a really compelling record of psychedelia and experimentation that's still approachable to casual of first-time listeners. It gets a little slow in the second half, and like I said before, it could use fewer transitions and snippets, but the album still does a really good job of creating a highly detailed and unique listen very few current artists can match.

3.5/5 STARS
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