The Avalanches’ “Wildflower” is a sophomore album finally appearing after 16 years of nothing from the musical artists in question. An Australian DJ trio, The Avalanches are known for cultivating a nuanced collage of sound, sampling everything from pop songs to spoken word recordings.
“Since I Left You,” which came out in 2000, used over 900 individual samples and was revolutionary in its sonic scope and broad musical context. When the album dropped last month, the question on many fans’ minds was, “How can this compare with their first album?”
The Avalanches are not the same as they were in 2000: One of their members, Darren Seltmann left the group over the hiatus. In light of the changes and the passage of time, what happens if listeners hear the album and treat it as its own entity rather than a sibling to “Since I Left You?”
What sets “Wildflower” apart from the Avalanches’ previous release is the added dimension provided by guest artists such as MF DOOM and Detroit-based rapper Danny Brown. Even their teaser video for the album, “Since they Left Us” expounded upon the power of collaborating, featuring appearances by Jennifer Herrema from Royal Trux, Father John Misty, and lo-fi monarch Ariel Pink.
The album opens with “Leaves Were Falling” — a 15-second track of feedback and a couple coughs. It then merges into the reggae-based “Because I’m Me” which gives away into spliced soul beats similar to a glitched Jackson 5 track. Rather than focusing on lyrical complexity, “Wildflower” allows the familiar sounds themselves to exist as the driving force of the record.
The lead single, “Frankie Sinatra” was also released as a limited edition 7-inch back in April. The song acts as a melange of rap and ska, but the chorus toys around with ragtime piano riffs and a few lasers before launching into an instrumental cover of “The Sound of Music’s” “Favorite Things.” It’s the track that made me realize that for the Avalanches, a record isn’t just a musical experience, it’s an auditory circus.
On the surface , this record shouldn’t flow as seamlessly it does. Each song veers on the edge of an auditory overload, but the transitions between each sample and track are effortless. This record isn’t stagnant; it’s a malleable musical experience — one that’s capable of expanding and contracting to confront the limits of sound itself.
“The Noisy Eater” should be avoided by anyone who hates the sounds of chewing, since Biz Markie’s slurps, smacks, and chomps provide the sonic base for the track. In a semi-eerie move, this track also utilizes a chorus of children singing the Beatles’ “Come Together” amidst whistles and bells.
“Subways” is bolstered by disco bass lines and lasers coupled with CHANDRA’s constant refrain of, “You walk on the subway/ it moves around/ you hear someone scream/ so you go to see what you found.” Avalanches tracks still carry the weight of symphonies the auditory narrative flowing seamlessly from one movement to the next,blurring the lines between disco and electronica. This single is easiest to engage with in a wider musical context; it sounds similar to early Daft Punk.
At 22 tracks, this record is massive, ultimately clocking in at an hour and four minutes. But the gargantuan scope does not hinder its inherent coolness. This record is brilliant, but it’s not made for the passive consumption of a train ride home. “Wildflower” begs to be actively listened to: not merely as a record, but as an experience. That, one hopes, is what can distinguish it from the Avalanches’ much-lauded previous elephant in the 16-year room.