Yesterday, I mentioned that I was going to England, and today, at long last, I'm lucky enough to get the perfect vacation album. To say "at long last" is an absurd understatement, though. Spring after winter is "at long last". Or even the start of a show's new season is "at long last". The 15-year gap since 2001's Since I Left You is so far beyond "at long last" that it really stops being about just time altogether. In that sole metric, it doesn't win out against
The best analogy still must be vacation: imagine an overworked salaryman, who, perhaps for their honeymoon or something, spends a one perfect week early in his career at a Hawaiian resort. Then, for fifteen years: nothing. Nothing but the often-revisited memories of that week of paradise. And this? This is two plane tickets waiting for him on his desk... Maybe I have hyped myself up too much for this album with this excessive fantasy. It is somehow a difficult album to approach, despite the whole sound of Avalanches being about hypnotic escapist pleasure. I feel like in trying to describe what I am hearing and what I like about it in real time, I will be overwhelmed with snatches of recognition and hauntingly great textures and sounds that go beyond all description. That's uhh, more of a flaw in this silly review format than anything, but uhh...
Really, I think this album is just bound up with too much stuff in my mind to be in any place of coherent expectation. In a great commonwealth adventure, I associate my trip from Canada to the UK to this album by Australians. But on one level at least (the cover art), they seem to be aiming for a psychedelic Americana? And of course, whenever you're thinking on an international level, the delightful idiosyncratic indulgences of each country are juxtaposed against the geopolitical crises besieging them, which you might only understand from headlines of commentary pieces. These issues get exponentially more complex as you cast them through time, seeded by The Avalanches' profoundly nostalgic found sounds. That doesn't even mention your own 15 year history with SILY, your own nostalgia for associations and memories around it... And if you had a great friend die in the last few months who was also a huge fan of The Avalanches, and would have loved to hear this, and discuss it with you later, well, you can't help but let those feelings further enrich the whole broth.
I really can only call them vacation feelings, that apex intersection between love and peace and nostalgia and anticipatory nostalgia and concern and overload and privilege and perspective and awe and curiosity and fulfillment and emptiness... and there are more. We will look for them in this landmark release and I think we will find them.
The Avalanches - Wildflower
1. The Leaves Were Falling
Okay here we go. "Hi". Very short intro. But I love it already.
2. Because I'm Me
Ooh, Camp Lo, I haven't heard that name in awhile. This sort of distant amateurish feeling... really feels like the peaceful wilderness of small American towns and stuff... AHHH the way it "came on" there, it's so funky and free, it's making that sound full and real... Awww yeah going in, I feel like there's a lot of rapping on this album which I am more than okay with. Nice inspirational opening verse aww yeah. "If she don't love me, what can I do? Just put on my best pair of shoes", awww yeah, if you're sad you just gotta dance. The way they capture that feeling of people just "letting go" when making music, just playing in the most natural way to imagine. These Tony jokes are pretty funny, pretty clever stuff from beyond-veteran rappers. All these talented people coming together to make something so joyful... ahhh the transition around 3:00, the trumpets feeling sorta Idlewildy, but in a super dreamscape... I already feel it moving past me, this is the compelling duality of their music... it is always slipping away from you. Ahh and these muted tones, these "outside of a party" sounds, they nail these. Aww yeah here comes FRANKIE, one of the 2016's most enduring musical memes. **
3. Frankie Sinatra
We all heard this single at least once and then fifty thousand times in our head. There's a lot of hater groups stirred into action by this but I think it's pretty solid and fun. Sure it's electroswing who cares its fun not corny. And it's got DANNY, it sounds like they mixed up the vocals a little more for the album version? Unsure. That was a big complaint I'd heard before. Kinda glad the only part I'd heard before came so soon... from here on out, it's all new horizons of paradise... AHHHH FRANKIE SINATRA, god damn that hook man it just never leaves, never ever. and DOOM, I really can't believe they got the real MF DOOM to do a new verse Jesus. okay now show me the "My Favorite Things" part, that's my favorite part, that's the part that completely sold me on new Avalanches. Ahhh yeah. It's sooooo good Jesus, with the little cymbal rolls and stuff. Ahh, they cut off another repetition of the hook. LOL the YMCA hahaha. Good. **
Oooh... OOOH... this is interesting. I really have no idea where it'll go... spacey sounds, SUPER endearing singing, it moves around, it moves around. Oh my god. This is the real deal, isn't it? This is actually new Avalanches? Awww yeah it's that "impossible disco" feeling. You're at the dance club but there is no climate that supports this feeling. A hidden fifth season, a new weather, an undiscovered continent. Nananana-nanana, awww yeah. And yet it's still somehow muted, somehow faded from itself... "You hear someone scream, so you go to see what you found"???? It is this distance, of understanding, of actual presence, always on the peripherals, that gives parts of their albums the really compelling duality... I love the little precise percussion, those little jabs... there's so many types of energy here. I love it. Oh man I love it **
5. Going Home
Awww dang that was a nice transition. Yooo and all this distortion, it really feels free, it really has that knob-twiddling freedom to it. "This is a song for a genius child, sing it softly 'cause the song is wild"? Something like that? "Let the song get out of hand", awww hell yeah. This is just too funky. "I'm a wild girl, ain't no taming me", man the spirit of this album, so free, so timeless, it's the dream of all children. "Dance your pain away", this seems to be a consistent message. Aww yeah phone call core. Such a short call! **
6. If I Was A Folkstar
ft. Toro y Moi holy shit, this collab makes WAY too much sense. Toro being one of the few that could capture some of the SILY spirit in the years since, I think. What a delicate and happy beat, it feels so precious in how it was "found", how it bubbles alongside the street sounds and layers of contextual meaning. And hnnng radio personality samples, idk why that always gets me but it does. "How's your commute?", there is something very endearing about such a friendly question. I don't know how they're so good at making all these little melodic lines awwww yeah that train sound omg. Toro y Moi's voice is impossibly smooth, it must be illegal somehow. This little romantic story... it feels like the perspective of the person who has been listening to the previous tracks on the radio, kinda? "Let's stay in till we die", quintessential Toro y Moi sweet-despair. and that little windchime sound, it feels almost tongue-in-cheek, but it fits so well, it gives everything such magic... And then with echoey distance, we retreat out of this "world", through the holes of another speaker, and further back, the sounds of the beach oh no no this is gonna be TOO powerful. somehow it becomes an acoustic beach player? magical... ***
Jonathan Donahue... was in uhh... Flaming Lips I think? And other bands too maybe. O snap, this is beautiful. All these vocal shifts... it feels like whatever drugs took the Beatles from Please Please Me to Sgt Peppers have been applied yet again, we're even more abstract and dreamy in that direction. I love the drums on this holy crap, this single driving element that makes the many sonic layers totally sensible and compelling... They're so simple too. "Undersea, understone, nobody wants to be alone"... this is like Disney happy ending core hahaha. All the animals returning to their homes. Man though these backwards effects and stuff... they really do somehow screw with your temporal mind, I can't explain how. How nice, how very nice. And this little flute outro, and OWL NOISES, ayyy tybg ***
Hmmmmm what could this be? What could this mean? Sacred forest progressional? Everything flowing backwards? The master sword returned to its post? Ahhhh and that Beach Boys-esque harmonica, Cabin Essence vibes in the best possible. Everything settling down into itself, and then siphoning upwards to the sky. "Peace and quiet, nothing around you but clear blue sky", nice, wonderful. This is sort of BoCesque, again, in the best imaginable way. Weatherman samples ;___; that wonderful everyday. Hahaha DOG BARK YES. **
9. The Noisy Eater
lol uh oh some people really can't stand eating sounds. Wow Biz Markie, they dug deep to get some real talent here god damn. Capt Crunch, this is so fun. They shoulda got DOOM on this one for some MM FOOD shit. And this also features a guy who does a bunch of film scores, this Jean-Michel Bernard. LOL wait did they sample a kid singing UHHH WHAT'S THAT SONG. and this giant cinematic score, and the stutters, NOW IT'S LUNCHTIME, AND I'M HUNGRY AGAIN, ahgahaha this is blowing my mind. OH: it's COME TOGETHER by the beatles that band i was just talking about THANKS MEMORY GOOD JOB FINALLY. holy shit this song is crazy. biz eatin and watching TV, i feel like i recognize many other things but just fragmentary. this is a really fun one. no one could make a song like this i think. biz's growls and stuff are so good too. ***
TITLE TRACK UH OH. Ethereal cereal??? ESP units of pectin? No shit??? is this about cryptocurrency? UH NO it is just this hella beautiful floating sound. the sound of fluffy multicoloured clouds rolling by. AND CRICKET SOUNDS you read my dang mind thank you for that. So nice. So very nice. And we're not even halfway through yet. Sheesh.
Oh man the strings they had for just a second there, that was too much, I remembered too many things. Oh man. Oh man. This could be something amazing. For all those who didn't finish school, an alphabet song! About harmony! With a tight beat and sample loop! And a fluttering flute! The possibilities feel endless! The horizon stretches forever brightly in all directions! Wow and is this harpsichord? And a Bach-esque little progression on fuglehorn or whatever that thing is called? Like we've somehow just time-overlayed a garden party 400 years and one ocean apart? Hnnng. I think that's what we did. This is too gorgeous. If they start reversing beats and stuff it will be unfair. Unfair to all of other music. Aw those acoustic tappings... awww man. So nice... ***
12. Live a Lifetime Love
WHEN I WAS A CHILD AND I WAS RUNNIN WILD, lots of people on this one, I only know Ariel Pink. LMAO where was that "Truueeee" sample from, I definitely recognize that. And now a nice Beach Boysy beat, and then GOING IN, who is even rapping now? I have to look up these people but no time rn. I feel this a lot though. This works SO WELL. And I think I hear Ariel in the backing voices. Lmao hearing about smoking blunts on an Avalanches album still throws me for a loop but it's as much a part of their world as anything else. And once again we are outside of a party and uh oh, cops?? Pulled over? hahaha uh oh. A couple wild ones! This theme of wild is fantastic, "wild thing, I think I love you!" **
13. Park Music
Oooh, this is like one of the Smile interludes, but strung out on something beautiful. Dreams blowing forward and backwards... The precision of the acoustic guitar, in contrast, is really nice. "Living life day to day!"
14. Livin' Underwater (Is Somethin' Wild)
ahgahaha lmao are you kidding me with this title wow i love it i mean it's true right? we've all seen finding nemo/dory. and now we can just hear this song. they really do water sounds like no one else. and conflated with crickets (!!!) and police chatter, the story they are telling here... it is like a dream, it only obeys that level of logic, but there is indeed some logic. god damn this is beautiful though. so rich. "everything is real. everything"... sure. dang and the way the beat's sorta coming on here... that is yet another one of their skills.
15. The Wozard of Iz
o DAMN that's exactly what I hoped would happen. Danny rapping over this INSANE beat. is this a taste of his warp-aligned future. WITH DANNY AD-LIBS TOO. maximum danny. goddamn what a banger. What is that voice even saying? All I hear is like... "splendor", "surrender", "live forever", wait this is crazy, "I have been over the rainbow, and I found nothing there but very thin air", how haunting. What does any of this mean? LOL I HEARD THE HORSE. O WTF, this verse??? this flow??? BLUNT AFTER BLUNT AFTER BLUNT, PILL AFTER PILL AFTER PILL AFTER PILL ahaha definitive danny. mathematical creation of the idea of danny brown. wow. and this outro. this was the exact opposite vibe that i expected even though i expected other elements of it and i'm feeling very much happyconfused wow. ***
16. Over the Turnstiles
like... back on the train? but that splash? the train to the beach? the train at the beach? umm, isn't this making me too happy right now?
oh damn they just went right ahead and called a song this. wow the panning of that vocal part... sunshine all around me... how are they doing this? how does this make sense? like when you break down exactly what they're doing to what was once a normal vocal line to create something like this it's utterly mind blowing. and the awareness of that complexity is just bubbling under every aspect of this pleasant listening experience. how wonderful, how utterly wonderful. "Then you went away, turning my blue skies gray"... like... the sun went down? ohh man the way they loop it the same way on her now extremely emotionally different repetition of the title... wait omg what are they doing now... this cinematic hugeness, these strings... how, how. man. those strings. and a thunderstorm that i legit thought was out my window for a second hahaha. **
18. Light Up
oooh this is some real DILLA DILLA BEATS BEATS BEATS sorta sampling I think, something about this filter. i feel it, i really feel it. you can see things they've learned in the last 15 years. OMG the little snatch of piano there, that was incredible. and again this swirling serene forest feeling...
19. Kaleidoscopic Lovers
and again this incredibly evocative title that they really can't seem to help but live up to, almost naively not downplaying the victory that being able to title something like this represents. it does sound kaleidoscopic, that is for sure. fractures of music the world over are cutting into each other in the most wonderful ways. trying to describe this album is like trying to describe a dream or psychedelic drugs. i'm all about the bass line on this one, though... it's worth focusing on for a second, just to feel how much work it's putting in... they make all these huge soundscapes, layered in so many ways, so cohesive and understandable and compelling. "Everywhere you look, children running like crayon colours into the soon" wow. "And then I see, one by one, wildflowers dance with weeds". I have no idea where this is sampled from but they sure hit the jackpot. wow and then that transition... everything now blooming into space... ***
UHH wow Jennifer Herrema is the one from ROYAL TRUX, that's completely insane. And Warren Ellis has written a bunch of comics even I have heard of? What the heck? How does this make any sense? How does this beat make any sense? How can I love it so much? That sort of chunky lo-fi sound and the deliberately unswung rhythm? And these vocals, so rugged but endearing. "Take it to the store, and get a Coke!" hahaha, the fun of buying small things. Uh oh but more and more degenerate purchases lol. Ahh it's the windchime sound again... I loved the way they brought back so many of their trademark sounds... Man... this little slice of urban life, rendered as dreamy and mythic as anything else... how do they keep doing this? All these lifestyles, rendered in that Finnegans Wake-esque infinity... yeah, I went there. They're making myths out of these stories, ur-stories, ones that stretch beyond time and space. or something. ***
21. Saturday Night Inside Out
Oh no, this is it... I didn't realize this was it... No, no... I'm not ready... Father John Misty, too, and David Berman of Silver Jews, the depths they went to in so many genres, holy crap. I guess they have the notoriety that they can just call like anybody up lol. Man wow the sonic textures of this one... even the deadest static of the radio feels like it's been enlivened in this psychedelic nondimensional way. omg and the guitar... how they gonna make me cry by just playing the guitar... that's not fair, that seems too easy. "I first saw her in a record store"... o damn... this spoken word feeling, it feels so definitive... the mythologizing of one's own life, for better or worse. "Teardrops were standing in my eyes"... "I adored the way she modified the mornings"... man, this is really really good writing. This must be Berman's influence, it really sounds like his lyrical work. holy crap and the beat too... the handclaps that punctuate it. i really like this very much. it is a feeling distinct but resembling love. and the distance is compelling too. wow. that's it, I guess. ***
Myriad colours radio world
If Since I Left You was the story of the mindblowing experience of a young American couple's first tropical vacation, which I think most people can believe is, at least, a loose guiding narrative, then I think Wildflower is a similar treatment to the little vacations people can take while still at home. I often found myself imagining it as a series of vignettes, each of which ending with the revelation that it wasn't "actually" happening, but was just being seen on TV or heard on the radio by the stars of the next segment. The path is tangled, loopy, and the hierarchy self-contradicts, but only adds to this dreamy sensation of a plurality of realities and fictions...
And the scenes we see on this journey, oh man... We join everyone in these moments of "interior vacation", of indulgence, or appreciation, or love. The idea of ping-ponging across America to witness someone caught in a fantasy while listening to a song they love is a beautiful one, not just for any of the moments individually, or any combination of them, but the whole idea that these moments, although each is unique and separate, constitute together a culture, a movement, something nameless and formless but real and powerful... the presence of a certain mentality across all these demographics and areas and areas... a mentality that I guess can only be put as "desires vacation", but really means something much more. What exactly that is, I can't put into words, but it is something very good and deserving of celebration, deserving of the rich celebration we see in this album.
I'm sorry if that didn't make any sense. Theorizing various contextual readings for the "story" of the album is about the only thing I can think to do. Everything else feels sort of superficial, just a laundry list of things I can point out that I liked... their classic sounds, their new sounds, their animal sounds, their excellent use of guest rappers and singers, the way they perfectly time some of their best material to drift past within just 20 seconds or so... but it feels like no matter how many of these I examine, it won't add up to anything like the complete experience. It isn't like SILY but it's like SILY in that it's like nothing else.