Forming in the late 90s and bonding over their love of second-hand gear and crate digging, The Avalanches started to work on post-modern pop songs with the detail of mini-symphonies: intricately drawing magical realistic sound collages, by meticulously blurring together samples from their record collections with a sheer joy of playing.
Released at the tail end of 2000 in the UK on XL Recordings and Modular worldwide, the Melbourne production outfit’s debut album Since I Left You, produced by group members Robbie Chater and Darren Seltmann, was crafted from an estimated 3,500 samples from various genres. According to Chater they “were really unorganised and were just sampling on the fly as tracks progressed … We had no idea the record would get such a wide-scale release so we saw no need to keep track of what we were using – we were definitely guilty of harbouring a ‘No-one’s going to listen to it anyway’ sort of attitude.”
Sampling artists as disparate as Françoise Hardy, Blowfly, Sérgio Mendes, Raekwon, Wayne and Shuster, and Madonna, often picking out the leftover bits to fit the pattern and flow of each song, Seltmann felt that “the more rejected and unwanted the record that a sample comes from, the more appealing it is, I guess it’s almost a reaction to rare record finding.”
It was an imaginative pick and mix of the entire treasure trove of musical and audio history in a whirlwind trip over 60 minutes, applying their grounding in electronic music with an obsession with feverish audiophile rummaging through record shops to find that one prized piece of the puzzle. This was also an attitude was so beloved of the cut and paste and scratching of hip hop culture of the 1980s and 90s, perpetuated by the likes of De La Soul , The Beastie Boys, and Tribe Called Quest.
Preceded by the funky beats of ‘Electricity’ and the literally bonkers sampling of the humourous ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’, when they released the album’s title track as a single in 2001, they perhaps scaled a new height, inviting you into its world of fantasy with the sample “Get a drink, have a good time now, welcome to paradise”. From there on in you are aboard ‘Since I Left You”s glowing carousel of sonics that tantalises and uplifts the senses, transporting you to distant lands of escape; this sun-infused pop sways like giant sunflowers in fields, a bricolage of samples of flutes, organs and strings anchored by the longing soulful refrain (lifted from the Main Attractions 1968 release ‘Everyday’) the meaning of which they manipulated into an imperious break-up jam. The ‘Everyday‘ sample was the final element to be added by Chater and Seltmann, it was the thread that tied the song together, Chater telling Pitchfork later that it was the moment when they “really succeeded in writing a pop song.”
‘Since I Left You’ is possessed of a joyous revere that rustles with elements of 50s soundtracks, the doo-wop of the Duprees, show tunes, the plucked jazz guitars of Tony Mottola, 60s soul, interspersed with fragments of modernist beats, at times it feels like a seaside spin across the pier that’s about to collapse, but somehow it works brilliantly – it sounds like no specific era because it’s a jigsaw puzzle of every era. Scaling the charts around the world at the turn of the millennium, it offered a meticulous tapestry of sound that juxtaposed itself against the big beats of the era. Mysterious and reclusive, the Avalanches only returned with the slightly underwhelming ‘Wildflower’ follow up in 2016, after years of remixing for others. One could say it’s the sound of pop eating itself but far from pure escapism and novelty, with their debut record The Avalanches proved they had an imagination that could hang together their love of music to create visions of the future. It’s a testament that almost two decades on, the wonderful ‘Since I left You’ is still glorious and timeless, and how our half-remembered dreams of the past might sound.