The Return of the Sorcerers of Ephemera
A few footsteps and a low hum punctured by a cough yield the impression that the listener might be sneaking into the party. There’s something appropriate about that idea with regard to Avalanches. Their debut, Since I Left You, opened with a sunny splash and a voice welcoming the listener to paradise and welcomed the new millennium with a grand entrance. Wildflower arrives 16 years after their debut and is every bit as vital, vibrant, warm and welcoming, all while putting on display that Avalanches have evolved a bit in their time away.
For those who don’t know, Since I Left You was done entirely by sampling (I think this might’ve been where the term “sampledelic” came about, but I could be wrong). Not the way that the new millennium has seen from hip-hop or how Girl Talk made his career, but in a manner akin to the found object principle in art incorporated by Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp. The modus operandi on Wildflower is the same, but this time the Australian collective have brought along some friends for this wonderful ride.
Wildflower pumps, pulses and is practically bursting at its seams with energy, confidence and life-affirming joy, a spectrum of emotions evoked in tandem by the samples and collaborators chosen. The muted intro mentioned at the beginning of this writing leads calmly into the completely dialed back and almost bashful intro to “Because I’m Me” which anchors itself on a rearrangement of Six Boys in Trouble’s “Why Can’t I Get it Too” over Honey Cone’s “Want Ads.” In a few cuts and pastes of sheer magic, Wildflower proper opens with “If she don’t love me, what can I do? / Just put on my best pair of shoes / Because I’m me” and later “ I just want to know what’s wrong with me being in love with you.” Coupled with the explosion of brass from the Honey Cone track, the album not only arrives, but grabs the listener and – regardless of the listener’s state of mind – puts a finger on each side of their mouth and pushes them up until the fake smile has no choice but to become real. Completing the track is Camp Lo’s rhymes of pure joy of breaking into life with wide-eyed, invincible optimism. Thus, the power of The Avalanches has returned with the gusto of a collective that feels like it was never really gone.
“Because I’m Me” sets an impressive tone that Wildflower delivers on track after track, sample after sample, guest after guest. From the calypso-stomping lead single featuring great verses from Danny Brown and MF Doom, “Frankie Sinatra,” the disco-psychedelia of “Subways” and “If I Was A Folk Star,” to “Harmony,” “The Wozard of Iz” and the wildly fun, funny and wonderful “The Noisy Eater” – featuring the juxtaposition of Biz Markie rhyming about that rumble in the tummy and a children’s choir warbling the opening of “Come Together” by The Beatles – The Avalanches are sorcerers of ephemera with Lazarus-esque resurrection skills as well as both a sense of humor and uncanny showmanship.
The psychedelic, pop-tastic paella served up by these Australian auteurs is also chaotically narrative-driven. Maybe not in the traditional, storybook sense, but Wildflower has a flow comparable to Bunuel’s The Phantom of Liberty or Richard Linklater’s Slacker. The listener is taken on and aural trip where the detours and offshoots might never pan out, but there’s something special about that. Cuts like the title track, “Park Music,” and “Livin’ Underwater (Is Somethin’ Wild)” are either gone before they settle or they accompany the listener through Wildflower like an anonymous citizen walking alongside them on the way to work in a city morning, nodding politely and silently wishing them a good day. Sure, I could be perceiving this incorrectly and they could come off as lazy or underwhelming to another listener, but this album has such a pace of life about it. In life, we meet some for only brief moments and, despite our wishes, they’re gone before we want them to leave, but life soldiers on.
Obliquely, I think The Avalanches might actually think similarly due to their choice of voice over from David Berman opening on the closer, “Saturday Night Inside Out.” “We inaugurate the evening / just drumming up a little weirdness / It gets late so early now / Waves come in mountain phases.” Again, I may be wrong. The looping denouement has some gorgeous imagery through the sampled spoken words of Berman. None greater than the simple, “I adored the way she modified my mornings…she taught me to re-light, re-light and re-light.” Through 2 albums of equal sprawl, ambition, grace and artistic bliss, The Avalanches have taught me to replay, replay and replay.