The Avalanches - Wildflower (XL)

The Avalanches – Wildflower (XL)

The Avalanches have spent 16 years coasting on goodwill from their classic and critically acclaimed debut, Since I Left You.  The success of that album and their long absence has brought growing expectations.  After years of rumours, they return with Wildflower, ending the myth of The Avalanches.  Portishead handled a similar situation by reinventing their sound and My Bloody Valentine did it by rarely straying from their formula. Most recently, after 14 years away, D’Angelo found the perfect combination of showing growth and retaining elements that made Voodoo an essential listen.  The Avalanches’ return comes close to getting the balance right, despite the group losing members and a lack of activity.

You wouldn’t have guessed they’d succeeded on this album from lead single, ‘Frankie Sinatra.’  Over time, I wondered what The Avalanches would come back with, and I never once hoped they would return with a song unfit to be a Gorillaz B-side.  On Since I Left You, songs came alive in context, more so than individually.  Sadly, that isn’t the case here. Like ‘Frankie Sinatra,’The Noisy Eater’ is a hip-hop-inspired song that sounds clumsy, instead of suitably retro (like the effective hip-hop influences on Since I Left You).  It comes across as a failed attempt to emulate Goodie Mob’s food anthem, ‘Soul Food.’  These are the missteps on Wildflower where things feel forced.

The rest of Wildflower encapsulates beautiful little pockets of sound that made Since I Left You special.  Three minutes into the celebratory spirit of ‘Because I’m Me’ there is a stunning orchestral arrangement that is both filmic and unexpected.  It’s a fleeting moment of bliss.  The Avalanches excel at inserting these twists and details into their songs.

The sad euphoria they capture on ‘Subways’ is one of many highlights.  The combination of lush swirling strings and funky bassline is spine-tingling.  It’s followed by the wandering groove of ‘If I Was a Folkstar.’  It sounds like peak Basement Jaxx with a hint of Tame Impala.  These songs capture the ethos of The Avalanches without repeating their previous sound.


A recurring theme on Wildflower is the joys of childhood.  Children sing the hooks on ‘Subways’ and ‘Because I’m Me,’ while their choice of collaborators fits with the goofy adolescent rapping of Danny Brown and the playful ramblings of Jennifer Herrema from Royal Trux.  Jonathan Donahue from Mercury Rev appears on the gorgeous ‘Colours.’  It bursts into life with textured backing vocals that recall My Bloody Valentine at their most ethereal.  Donahue has made a career of singing with a sense of childlike wonder.  His fragile tone is a perfect match for the Disneyesque melody as he sings “I want to join on the urban surf.”

The Avalanches have mentioned The Beach Boys as an influence. Wildflower oftens sounds like they’re making their own version of Smile — songs and interludes drift in and out and there are ambitious arrangements. ‘Sunshine’ and ‘Harmony’ mix those influences whilst coming close to recreating the nostalgia they perfected on Since I Left You. There’s a warmth in the harmonies on ‘Live a Lifetime of Love’ and ‘Light Up’ that come from the Curt Boettcher school of psychedelic 60s pop — a common thread on this record.

Since I Left You featured ‘Summer Crane,’ which sounded like a perfect closer but instead they kept momentum going with the vibrant disco of ‘Live at Dominoes’ and a second apt closer ‘Extra Kings,’ which felt like a victory lap.  They don’t repeat that trick here, but they have a perfect end to the record with ‘Saturday Night Inside Out.’  The spoken vocal and quick fade in and out effect resonates; it’s like being slowly woken from a dream. It’s a fitting closer for the understated nature of Wildflower.

Wildflower also uses atmospherics that are evocative of a long sunny day.  Since I Left You took the listener to similar places but it also took you out to the club.  Wildflower is the morning after to Since I Left You’s hectic night on the town.  It feels like what you’d hear on a hungover road trip, flicking through different stations and stopping on idealistic songs that make you want to head to the beach.  With its kitsch 60s pop influence, Wildflower is sonically more like Saint Etienne or The High Llamas.  This is a contrast to Since I Left You, which sometimes sounded like Daft Punk or DJ Shadow.

Wildflower is the sound of a group who’ve matured whilst keeping the technicolour charm that made them an exciting prospect in 2000. They stick to similar themes this time round but there are still a few surprises.  The Avalanches haven’t quite made their second masterpiece, but Wildflower largely justifies the wait and is a perfect record for anyone looking for an hour of escapism.  Some might say that, their timing couldn’t be better.

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