Album Review: The Avalanches—“Wildflower”

By Christian Schoug, Feature Photo via Stereogum

The Avalanches, an Australian electronic dance group, found extremely positive critical success and an enduring commercial attention since the release of their 2000 album, Since I Left You. After the exceptionally long 16 year hiatus between Since I Left You and their latest effort Wildflower, there has been quite the build up.

The album cascades through its track lists with its contrasting high and low energy and euphonic efforts, making many of the songs feel self-contained in its multiple stylistic arrays. Featured artists on the album, including Danny Brown and MF DOOM, add a hip-hop flavour to the album – with heavily weighted songs strengthened by the flowing rap verses that move away from the fractured, repetitive phonic loop that the debut album boasted.  The inclusion of studio musicians laid over the complex clip stitching together of the tracks is perhaps the most invigorating and innovative decision of the album.

With its stretches as well as its more individual-based songs, The Avalanches experiment with phonic pastiche that drapes into a colorful quilt of reggae, calypso, disco, slinking synthesized electronics, and airy wind instrumentals. A standout track near the centre of the album, “Colours, offers up a composition of bejeweled, twinkling, and spritely sounds under childish and mesmerizing sing along vocal lines. Robbie Chater, the lead producer, extends a well-measured hand for plotting and executing the musical events of unpredictable release that many of the tracks build and dissolve into. 

avalanches-wildflower

Wildflower album cover

For every blissful moment and musical event of dynamic release in its production that The Avalanches will build up, it still does not feel like the tightest and most selective, refined product. As it slides in at just a few seconds under an hour, and boasting 22 tracks, it cannot quite carry the interest and fascination in experimentation and moves with a bit of a patient, emptier pace. This is found in some of the shorter transitional tracks, such as “Going Home” and “Park Music.” “Zap!” is a noticeable exclusion to this trend, a descending and declining jazzy scale that mournfully whispers its mood and crucially tilts the album into another effective modal moment. However, to close the album with an extended remix of the lead single “Frankie Sinatra does not offer the listener all that much more, instead pushes the catchy refrain a little closer to nearing the precarious point of casual annoyance. As these tracks arrange in that direction, it begins to look much more like a sparser record of compilation tracks rather than a fully formed album that is constantly working together with all of its own components.

Still, even on their filler tracks, The Avalanches commit to their visionary ethos of modulating, synthesizing, and treating samples of music as a sonic play-doh. In their approaches, twists, and styles, they are united in peaceful, calming, curious, goofy, and giddy tones that they switch between so satisfyingly. Since they left us, The Avalanches have worked on returning to us with a well-mixed, buoyant, and ebullient collection of tracks. With many more tracks that could not fit within the album slated for release in the next few months as well as a return to live performance, The Avalanches are back, continuing onwards at producing vibrant and curious music.

 

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