The Avalanches explore a new hip hop style sixteen years in the making with new LP

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By experimenting with features on their sophomore release, The Avalanches have expanded their sound to create a more mainstream listening experience.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of XL Recordings

Sixteen years ago, The Avalanches released their timeless debut album Since I Left You, which traversed the potential of plunderphonics’ sample-based production techniques to create one of the first albums of its kind. After a long and drawn-out absence from music, the Australians returned to the limelight Friday to release their follow-up LP Wildflower, which rises to the occasion and delivers on the group’s promise of a fun and introspective experience.

As stated by the group themselves, Wildflower is assembled in the style of a mixtape rather than an typical album, pulling from the group’s experimentation with an animated film they described as a “hip hop version of Yellow Submarine.” The comparison here is more than fitting – this project investigates more dance-oriented and psychedelic sounds than its predecessor.

In a first for The Avalanches, several songs feature other non-sampled artists. More often than not, this gamble pays off. The album’s first single, “Frankie Sinatra,” features Danny Brown, a high-pitched and playful rapper whose bars match the song's pop feel perfectly. Other tracks such as “The Noisy Eater” and “Live a Lifetime Love,” which pull from Biz Markie and Ariel Pink, prove that features can be mixed into the old-school feeling of The Avalanches’ sound.

However, this formula is not always successful. The album’s closing track, “Saturday Night Inside Out,” features indie rock figure Father John Misty and poet David Berman, but fails to make its mark as a closing track. The songs that stand out usually lack features – it’s the more indie-pop-sounding tracks that take center stage on this album. “Colours” is the album’s peak, and other sample-heavy songs such as “Subways” and “Sunshine” carry their weight wonderfully.

Beyond its occasional stumbling point, Wildflower reminds the listener that plunderphonics isn’t an easy genre to dive right into. There are no shortcuts to making this kind of music – sure, computer programs have made it easier to grab the samples you want, but each artist and song sampled on this album required time to capture the perfect moment.

Even the album’s structure is completely different from The Avalanches’ debut. Since I Left You is a whirl of cohesive sounds, conveying one fluid feeling to create an all-encompassing experience, whereas Wildflower stands as a collection of individual songs that work together to form an idea. Some fans might find this attempt insufficient, but the shape of this album is chock-full of quality material that stands on its own.

Granted, Wildflower isn’t as magical as its predecessor. But listened to within reasonable expectations, it’s obvious The Avalanches have succeeded in what they set out to do – creating a trippy and fun unifying experience while revisiting the instrumental hip-hop style that made their music so memorable.

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  • Album: Wildflower
  • Tracks: 21
  • Genre: Plunderphonics/Neo-Psychedelia/Alternative Dance/Hip Hop
  • Rating: 8/10