The Wait Was Worth It; The Avalanches’ “Wildflower” Is Exuberant Brilliance [LISTEN] ALBUM REVIEW: The Avalanches' "Wildflower"
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Since I Left You, The Avalanches’ 2000 debut full-length, was essentially a CD-length testament to the pleasures of plunderphonics. Over the course of the 900+ samples extracted from impossibly obscure sources (the album was notably delayed when rightsholders rejected the band’s application to sample Rogers & Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things”), The Avalanches deploy nuggets of exuberant brilliance with savage effectiveness and leave you so thoroughly blissed-out that the only appropriate album to listen to next is, like, Music for Airports. It’s that wild of a ride.
So when Wildflower came out “suddenly,” in the same way that D’Angelo’s or My Bloody Valentine’s last albums came out “suddenly”, I breathed a sigh of relief which could probably be heard on Neptune because Wildflower absolutely, unequivocally, didn’t suck. If you like hooks, Wildflower has more of them than an Orvis catalogue; from opening salvo “Because I’m Me” to the immaculate run of “Subways”/“Going Home”/“If I Was A Folkstar”/“Colours”, Wildflower runneth over with songs developed in a lab to invade your head with surgical precision. And that’s before we get to the last four songs on the album, the breathtaking one-two-three-four combo of “Light Up,” “Kaleidoscopic Lovers,” “Stepkids,” and the majestic “Saturday Night Inside Out” (a track diehard fans first heard as an officially leaked spoken-word piece but which blossoms on the album as a radiant masterpiece whose closest comparisons are probably a couple of different Sunflower-era Beach Boys minor classics thanks to the addition of an otherworldly backing track). It’s a hell of a listen, to the point that I’ve gotten this far in this review without mentioning the SIXTEEN YEAR WAIT between Since I Left You and Wildflowers.
It’s worth pointing out, I think that fans spent that sixteen-year interregnum between The Avalanches’ albums obsessing over the band’s ephemera – their impossibly fun DJ sets, their adjective-defyingly charming remixes, and other musical ventures which don’t carry the significance of a full-length album. This goes a long way towards explaining the one common thread of antipathy among all critiques of Wildflower (including this one) – namely, that the songs which feature guest vocals are overall infinitely more hit-or-miss than the ones which just showcase the kind of tracks the band can craft. It’s significant, I think, to observe how the presence of Danny Brown can completely derail one song (lead single “Frankie Sinatra”) while utterly elevating another (album standout “The Wozard of Iz”); the former is Wildflower‘s most transparent gesture towards radio-friendliness thanks to its obvious verse-chorus-verse structure and comparatively subdued backing track, while the latter employs Brown’s singularly distinctive yawp as a one-verse counterpoint to the thundering drums and soaring children’s choir which define the song’s character.
But – and I cannot stress this enough – just because Wildflower isn’t as immaculate or compelling as some efforts which preceded it, that doesn’t make the record one iota less compelling to anyone who enjoys good music. If you want an album you can throw on whenever you need to blast some musical air freshener, Wildflower needs to be your go-to. If you want an album you can focus on and study the intricate Faberge Egg arrangements and flourishes damn near every song brings in spades, Wildflower is a record you’ll love getting to know intimately. If you want an album you can play in a car full of friends which absolutely none of them should hate (and if any of them do, boot them out of the door without slowing down), reach for Wildflower and don’t look back.