Album Review: The Avalanches – ‘Wildflower’

by Louis Gillett | @lou_gillett

Sirius Black did his twelve years of waiting in Azkaban, but not even that haul can compare to the 16 long years since The Avalanches released their debut album Since I Left You.

The 2000 sample-structured bonanza was an instant classic, but bar a few DJ sets and festival appearances, the Melbourne-based trio vanished into obscurity, with little to no light shed on the status of their much anticipated sophomore album.

Now, almost two decades on, The Avalanches have finally dropped Wildflower, a 21 track colossus of their trademark lo-fi, soul-drenched sound gathered from a multitude of records from the last century.

In a way, the group is exempt from committing to any trends that have developed in their sizable absence, the only barometer of their success being the seismic heights reached by Since I Left You.

However, that in itself may be what prevents Wildflower from being a truly memorable record.

On one hand, the listener is given excellent balance thanks to the armada of talent recruited to feature on the album. Detroit rapper Danny Brown‘s energetic verse gives an irresistible bounce to lead single ‘Frankie Sinatra’, while good value also comes from Father John Misty and David Berman‘s inclusion on final track ‘Saturday Night Inside Out’, and Camp Lo‘s contributions to the Motown, Michael Jackson-esque tribute ‘Because I’m Me’.

However, once the excitement of the album’s long overdue arrival finally settles down, there are a few notable flaws which come to mind.

At 21 tracks, it’s definitely heavy listening, even for a collection that has been so eagerly awaited, and a notable drop in the final few songs of the album threaten to derail the enjoyment value of the first few tracks.

Again, the album is sold short by nothing more than the seismic expectations the group has set for themselves, having created a musical style in which they have few competitors, if any at all.

One of the big questions hovering over the release of the album was whether or not The Avalanches could create a masterpiece of equal gravitas to ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’, the instant hit from Since I Left You that epitomizes the ‘sample-tastic’ style that elevated them onto the world stage.

Unfortunately, after a few listens, there seems to be no songs with the resonance and innate quirkiness of ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ on Wildflower, although ‘Frankie Sinatra’ tries hard to achieve this much with its undeniable value as the album’s ear-worm.

But for all its flaws, one can’t deny that any Avalanches fan who has been desperately awaiting their return will feel satisfied with their latest work, even if it does linger in the shadow of Since I Left You.

All that’s left to do after a few committed listens is pray to the musical gods that the guys don’t leave us in the dark for another 16 years, or else we’ll be needing something other than a ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ to recover.

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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