There’s a certain group of writers for entertainment websites who wondered if they’d ever see this day. More than a decade after Since I Left You’s release, the second album from The Avalanches – Wildflower – is finally upon us. Even if people had forgotten about the group, they won’t have forgotten their music – many of the tracks from the debut are still in rotation on my playlists – and no matter how I feel about the content of Wildflower, it’s great to be able to talk about a new Avalanches release.
Wildflower – something for everyone
With a mammoth 21 tracks on the album, it would feel a bit too clinical to write out a track-by-track talkthrough of the Wildflower – suffice to say the range of moods and tempos throughout the album mean that there’s something for everyone to enjoy. At the same time, it doesn’t feel too unfocused as it moves from jaunty beats to dreamy ambience, but it’s too early to say whether it will be as memorable as Since I Left You. Also, just like the previous album, a few of the shorter tracks act like interludes more than anything, so it’s not as enormous as you might think.
Even though Frankie Sinatra sounded like one of the least Avalanches-style tracks around, other tracks on Wildflower do more to play with your expectations, such as The Noisy Eater – the lazy beats and slick raps contend with jingles and chants throughout the track, and noisy eating can certainly be established through some of the samples. One or two tracks on the album feel like they take a sample or hook and run with it for a while but don’t really do anything to the song structure or add any extra layers, and at times this makes you feel like some tracks are threatening to outstay their welcome. Even so, many of those hooks and beats are so catchy that you’ll quickly forget about it.
The broad range of Wildflower
The tracks that succeed the most in Wildflower are the upbeat and melodic tracks such as Subways and Because I’m Me. The tracks that feel at home on the album are the soothing and playful tracks such as Harmony and Colours. The tracks that don’t work quite so well are the ones that don’t feel like Avalanches tracks, such as Frankie Sinatra. Of course, you can’t be too hard on bands and artists for trying to broaden their range, but when juxtaposed with the tracks that *do* work, it stands out so much more. At times it feels like there is a weird emphasis on raps and rhymes that just wasn’t there in the debut (unless you want to count Avalanche Rock) although sometimes the raps are complemented by melodies that are good enough to make a track enjoyable.
I know that some of the 21 tracks on Wildflower are quick interludes (which is fine – again, see Avalanche Rock), but on occasion you feel like there are enough decent tracks to justify losing the weaker ones. Sometimes the variety in mood can be felt through a single song. For instance, The Wizard of Iz – previously teased in the “Since They Left Us” video – threatens to repeat the same loops over and over, but it quickly transitions to gentle vocals and then abrupt rapping. Conversely, tracks like Sunshine – with their smooth vocals and high strings – are much more pleasant, and the looping samples work because the other layers of the song are more progressive and complement the samples.
Wildflower – worth the wait?
If you can take away anything from this album, it’s that it certainly feels like it’s been fifteen years in the making. It seems to avoid harsh criticism of the weaker tracks just by having so many tracks in total, and just when you start to shrug your shoulders at a less impressive beat, something else comes along and makes you think again. Also, the album definitely improves again as it draws to a close. (Oh, and to that group of people who like Frontier Psychiatrist more than any other track on Since I Left You – unfortunately there isn’t a record-scratching equivalent on Wildflower. Hopefully the better tracks on the album make up for it, but I understand the disappointment.)