The Time Capsule: The Avalanches 'Since I Left You'
    • THURSDAY, MAY 07, 2015

    • Posted by: Don Saas

    Of the various, nefarious forms of music snobbery, none are more persistent and malignant than the idea that "music with real instruments" is more meaningful and inherently better than electronic music. Avoiding the philosophical and semantical debate over what a "real instrument" is -- cause seriously, do these people think synths/music production tools are magic that DJs/producers pull out of the aether? -- there's one album that should have put that damn debate to rest 15 years ago. Alongside the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique, it's the height of "sample music," and I'm not sure if there's a single original sound on the record, but I do know that The Avalaches' Since I Left You is one of my easy picks for a top 10 record of the aughts.

    I was 11 when Since I Left You Dropped in the fall of 2000 -- only in Australia; it wouldn't get a proper American release until 2001 -- and I can promise you that I was not a hip enough sixth grader to be listening to Aussie plunderphonics. God, I'm honestly scared to even think about what I was digging in the same month that George Bush was elected (by the Electoral College and the Supreme Court; not the American people) President of the United States for the first time. It was before my parents' divorce so this was before my classic rock awakening -- which occurred when I lived with my dad post-divorce -- so it was likely basic late 90s/early 2000s radio top 40. I'd feel more shame if it weren't for the fact that I was 11 and the internet was only just becoming a real thing in rural WV.

    So, unlike my Neon Bible piece for this series, I didn't discover Since I Left You in the moment. I don't have life-changing memories (quite literally in Neon Bible's case) tied to the cultural zeitgeist of the release of this record. But, like Pearl Jam's Ten, Since I Left You played an integral role in my modern musical awakening despite discovering it many years after it was first released.

    I was one of those people that dismissed bands that weren't playing traditional rock instruments. I grew up on classic rock, and I was the snootiest f***ing "rockist" for ages (I sincerely hope I've moved past that). But I eventually discovered modern indie thanks to Neon Bible, and after I'd listened to it and the Shins' Oh, Inverted World, a million times, I finally found -- and I hate to bring up our competition -- Pitchfork in 2010 right after they'd completed their massive lists of the best records & singles of the aughts. I devoured those lists; many of my records that are among my favorite of all time were discovered upon my initial perusals of those lists; and situated at #10 was Since I Left You.

    I held off on listening to Since I Left You for months cause I couldn't make myself get interested in an album that consists almost exclusively of over 2,000 samples. Who were these guys and why couldn't they make their own music? I was an asshole and didn't know better. But, I also remember listening to the record for the first time and having all of my expectations left at the door after the first minute of the first (and titular) track.

    After an evening of...partying, I laid down in my bed and listened to records for nearly 6 hours straight. I was listening to records til the sun came up. That night I heard Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for the first time. I finally understood why people liked Person Pitch. And at the end, as I was coming down from my evening of partying, I put on Since I Left You. My cultural receptors were wide open and I was down for anything, and it was time to take that leap. And my life hasn't been the same since.

    It's difficult to explain Since I Left You to people who've never heard it. A disco-pop-rock-hip-hop record consisting almost entirely of warped and spliced samples is not an easy sell, and the record works on so many levels that even showing people individual songs can't explain the total Since I Left You experience. House fuses with psychedelic pop fuses with 70s dance fuses with avant-garde sample music fuses with every possible genre under the sun. Yet, Since I Left You is packed to the rim with more memorable melodies and insanely catchy hooks than most other more traditional and celebrated pop records of that decade.

    Despite the snippets of acoustic guitar and random background vocal samples, the opening and title track of the record makes it clear that, above all else, Since I Left You is a disco record. It does this despite an understated percussion line -- with percussion being the key to much of the feel of 70s disco. And you know out of the gates that this record is unlike anything you've ever heard. The pitch-shifted wail of "Since I left you/I found the world so new" paired with the looped strings and funky organ line make you want to dance from the beginning of the record, and it never changes.

    Yet, despite that, Since I Left You isn't simply a cleverly constructed dance record made of samples. The record gets downright bizarre. For anybody that's seen the legendary (among certain circles anyways) music video for "Frontier Psychiatrist," you'll know what I'm talking about. That song consists almost entirely of samples taken from -- as far as I can tell -- B-science fiction movies and commercials. But it also has a pop bombasticity that even some of the other best tracks on the record lack. And whether the record is creating moods of uplift, moods of yearning, or moods of the unsettling and extraordinarily weird, it never fails to make you feel something.

    I pass this record on to my friends like I'm a drug dealer giving out free samples. It's one of those albums that I simply can't imagine anyone not liking if they sit down and actually listen to it. It's fun; it's emotional; it's big while remaining intimate. That it is periodically taken off of Spotify every couple of years because of some new copyright strike (because of the literal thousands of samples on the record) is a bump in the road in that regards, but I always remind them that it's back up on Spotify once it finally reappears (it's there now and hasn't been taken down in a while so...fingers crossed). This was the record that was my formal introduction to how powerful a well-timed sample can be...or how powerful several thousand well-timed samples can be, and, man, isn't it about time for The Avalanches to release their perpetually delayed sophomore effort?

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