I have been putting this review off for months now. It has nothing to do about my feelings about the album, instead I was just unsure how to even talk about an album like this. It came down to my lack of understanding about how to actually create music. While I feel like I have a strong grasp on what it takes to make a song good and how to dissect lyrics to find deep messages and themes, the actual artistry can get lost on me at times. I have no idea how to play an instrument, my singing abilities are lackluster to say the least, and I have a basic understanding of audio mixing.
All this being said, I did not know where to begin with this latest album from The Avalanches. For those unfamiliar, The Avalanches are an Australian electronic group who specialize in a subgenre known as plunderphonics. This subgenre is focused on taking samples are using them to exclusively to create the album’s production. This can be seen executed perfectly on the band’s first, and until recently only, record Since I Left You from 2000. The various sounds come together in a fun, playful way that makes for an incredibly unique listen.
Things changed for Wildflower, however, as the group decided to include more original vocal features and arranged orchestration to blend with their usual brand of plunderphonics. Considering the sounds in hip-hop that have emerged in recent years, this seemed like an intelligent way to move forward. So the question is, how did this all come out?
To put it shortly, it worked. It worked really well. I would go as far as to say that this is the best electronic album of 2016, even if the title seems unfitting because of how much this album does not sound electronic. The orchestration is all handled masterfully, adding lush sounds to the sonic landscape of this record and helping to expand the scope of the project. The group’s past work on musicals shows here, as this album sounds like it could be the soundtrack to a wild, psychedelic journey.
The first few songs on this record really struck me as being some of the best work on the entire record. The album explodes with sound on “Because I’m Me” which begins with a sample of a Six Boys in Trouble song before going into verses from Sonny Cheeba and Geechi Suede. The two rappers have a fantastic amount of energy and breathe life into the project right from the start.
This track transitions into the earworm that is “Frankie Sinatra,” the album’s lead single featuring Danny Brown and MF DOOM. The Wilmoth Houdini song used on the hook is one of the catchiest things I have heard all year and is mixed in a way that sets Danny Brown up for his excellent verses. If I had to complain about the track, I would say MF DOOM’s energy does not really match that of Brown’s but his verse is still great so it does not bother me all that much.
“Subways” and “Going Home” blend together well to create the type of sample-based music we have come to expect from The Avalanches. As much as I do not like the sound of children singing, the Chandra sample used here works for me, making this a fun song about my least favorite mode of transportation. “Going Home” has the added benefit of some additional drums by Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, which was cool of him to do.
From here the album starts to slow down, which is far from a bad thing. Most of these songs are slower and more atmospheric though. They never get stale, however, with stuff always managing to stand out. On “If I Was a Folkstar” we have some nice vocals from Toro y Moi, “Colours” lives up to the title with lively sounds and a soft performance by Jonathan Donahue.
Things get interesting for me on the song “The Noisy Eater” which was apparently supposed to be featured in an animated film described as “a hip-hop Yellow Submarine” which makes sense given the sound. It is light and playful, sounding like it should be in kid’s movie as Biz Markie raps about eating various foods. I feel like I am not supposed to enjoy this track as much as I do, yet I do.
“Live a Lifetime Love” is another standout track, featuring some pretty solid bars from A.Dd+ who I had never heard of prior to this album. It maintains the light feel of the album while still keeping everything energetic. Things get heavier on “The Wozard of Iz” which is the second track here to feature Danny Brown. While shorter and not as catchy as “Frankie Sinatra,” Brown still does excellent work here. He is more restrained here, sounding as much like André 3000 as he can.
The last leg of this album does start to lose me a little, however. I do enjoy “Sunshine” as being a more emotive piece from the album and “Kaleidoscope Lovers” which has a beautiful psychedelic sound. The rest of the songs kind of meandered a little too much for me, and Father John Misty was underused to the point where he is not even noticeable on the closer “Saturday Night Inside Out.”
This is still an enjoyable album that I have had plenty of fun listening to. It does not touch Since I Left You and many might be disappointed after the long wait, but for what it is, it is great and as someone who did not have to wait nearly as long for this, I did enjoy listening to it. I do hope they do not take nearly as long between projects this time, since it is clear the group still has plenty of energy and creativity left in them.
Best Tracks: Because I’m Me, Frankie Sinatra, Subways, Colours, The Noisy Eater, Harmony, Live a Lifetime Love, The Wozard of Iz, Kaleidoscope Lovers
Worst Track: Saturday Night Inside Out