The Avalanches’ debut album sounded like a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle of a hummingbird drinking nectar that still fit together after being left in the sun and suffering water damage from the runoff of the largest kapok trees in the Amazon rain forest. 16 years later, is Wildflower as worthy of forced metaphors?
Like a wildflower planted in the Sahara, this album needed time to grow. The group announced in 2007, in an interview that we aren’t holding against them at all, that the sequel to Since I Left You was “right around the corner.” In 2011, group member Robbie Chater claimed that the album was finished even though it would take another five years to turn the existing music into an album, but it’s totally cool, I’m a professional and won’t let it affect my opinion of the long delayed Wildflower.
The album starts with an esoteric sample of somniloquist Dion McGregor narrating an excerpt of his most recent dream; because what is music if not a chance to dictate our dreams to the world, hoping they can find a home in someone else’s ear? From there comes “Because I’m Me”, a funky, blissful cut assisted by hip-hop newcomers (double-checks Wikipedia) veterans Camp Lo. And from there comes a string of euphoric, sun-soaked ditties interrupted by an underwhelming leftover from the Avalanches’ deserted Japanese cel animation film soundtrack, “The Noisy Eater”.
Featuring Biz Markie, a “Come Together” sample, and lyrics not quite bad enough to like ironically, “The Noisy Eater” is an ode to decibel-heavy noshing. The first clunker on the album, “The Noisy Eater” proves that The Avalanches are too preoccupied with their old material. Had the group focused on the album at hand rather than incessantly calling back to their previous work, they may have been able to make an original statement instead of dredging up music recorded years ago.
Since I Left You is another album by The Avalanches that also uses samples. It came out in 2000, which is 16 years ago. In the 16 years since the album came out, [add in whimsical references to 2000 pop culture and politics. REMEMBER TO DELETE THIS]. Their absence was slightly mitigated by 4 DJ Shadow releases that gave us a chance to show that we “get it”, but hurt none the less.
Throughout Wildflower, The Avalanches further demonstrate their nack for digging up samples from a time your grandfather who thinks Trump raises some good points feels people still made real music. You can practically see the chopped up vinyl strewn across the floor in the studio, if this were a documentary instead of an album where you can only hear things. Of the many powerful samples littered across the album, from the calypso classic “Bobby Sox Idol” on “Frankie Sinatra” to the soul sample/future RZA hook on “Sunshine”, the standout is the Putney Swope “Ethereal Cereal” commercial sampled at the beginning of “Wildflower.” Chater and Di Blasi wisely recognized the power of the word “ethereal” in conjunction with music, and it adds a morose, glacial tone to the album as we traverse the remaining soundscape.
The album picks up momentum as it heads for the climax, culminating in “Stepkids”, the wistful deep cut assisted by indie darling and Royal Trux songstress Jennifer Herema. The Australian trio also enlists the help of Father John Misty, Kevin Parker, Toro y Moi, and Jonathan Donahue at various points in the album to satisfy the music nerds and add a point and a half to this review’s score.
Given the intense delay between albums, that may or may not have been mentioned previously, it is difficult to evaluate this album in a vacuum. Since I Left You (their debut album that came out 16 years ago) was a game changer. But, if you block out the distractions and focus on the music itself, it’s tough not to find yourself becoming immersed in this album and appreciating the craftmanship before concluding it’s not as good as its critically acclaimed predecessor and therefore objectively trash.
Verdict: One of the most complex and creative albums of the 21st century, 5.5/10