When Australian electronic group The Avalanches released their debut full-length album, Since I Left You in 2000, it was received with universal acclaim. Its heavy remixing of samples, wrapped around an Electro-Dance base was a milestone release for the ‘Plunderphonics’ genre and an important talking point in the argument for sampling as its own art form rather than stealing. And then The Avalanches didn’t release another record for over a decade and a half. The long-tweaked Wildflower heralds their return, and it brings the same, chaotically beautiful formula. But has their vision strayed too far into the obscure psychedelic by this point?
Wildflower weighs in with 21 tracks within the span of an hour, but it’d be more apt to call the songs entries in an anthology with no apparent chronological or thematic direction. And besides some samples continuing between and returning in tracks, all those entries may as well be pages scattered on the floor. Whereas Since I Left You had a Dance foundation, the best genre anchor for Wildflower would be hip hop, but even then there are only a handful of rap tracks featuring verses from the likes of MF Doom, Biz Markie, and Danny Brown. Just as often, though, are contributions from other genre artists like Father John Misty and Ariel Pink. What The Avalanches seem to be saying with this album is that all of music is fluid—a statement enforced by the album’s structure.
The opening track, “The Leaves Were Falling” is a 15-second sound clip that sounds like the warm, inviting interior of a record store. From there, all music fades in and out at seemingly random, a love letter to music nerds from all walks of life. How much of that letter is received, however, is up to the listener. Throughout the album, It was fun for me to pick out quick bytes from Queens of the Stone Age’s Songs for the Deaf, John Cusack’s speech in High Fidelity, or a flute melody from The Sound of Music, but there was so much sampled content that a lot of it went over my head. I’d liken the album’s experience to riding in the car with a well-listened DJ flipping through stations old and new, popular and obscure—it’s teasing as often as it is rewarding, which sometimes made me want to go listen to what was being sampled instead. All these little snippets are fun, of course, but the way they are somehow reined into beats should be the focus—and though constantly listenable and smooth, there weren’t too many energetic or emotional highs (or lows!).
For how scatterbrained it can be, that’s not to detract from how meticulously and impressively produced the whole project is. It’s warm and goofy, and almost always a ton of fun to listen to, but I could only imagine listening to it alone and with some high-quality headphones. In that way, it’s a very intimate loveletter from The Avalanches to all fans of music, and in turn a very subjective experience. It also seems like the kind of album someone could return to years down the line and enjoy anew when their own listening catalogue has widened. I enjoyed the record, and urge anyone interested to give it a listen and score it for themselves. Wildflower is a thorough, sonically nebulous experience that feels like a goldmine waiting to be picked clean.
Reviewed by Matthew Wardell