One of pop’s most enduring mysteries has been the disappearance for 16 years of Melbourne electro crew The Avalanches. Their 2000 break-out album, Since I Left You, seemed to herald a new dawn for sample-based music, with its gleeful juxtaposition of Kid Creole, Jimmy Webb, John Cale, and the Osmonds. Silence followed, suggesting that, having delivered a definitive artistic statement, the group had nothing left to say.
But now, with little fanfare, they’re back, with a project that builds joyously on past achievements even as it refuses to lean too heavily on them. Opener ‘Because I’m Me’ splices pre-rock ’n’ roll, r’n’b, and rhymes from hip hop duo Camp Lo; ‘Colours’ is one of three numbers pairing Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donohue’s sad-hipster croon with fluttering, melancholic grooves.
What’s most impressive is how The Avalanches — now just the duo of Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi — subvert the expectation that a record of sound collages should be a jerky, manic affair (a stereotype tiresomely peddled by 2manydjs and Fatboy Slim). With the exception of the giddy and irritating comeback single ‘Frankie Sinatra’ — the title by far the least annoying thing about it — Wildflower is gauzy and sublime, shot through with yearning and an ache of wonder.
That Chater and Di Blasi would compare Wildflower to The Beach Boys’ decades-delayed Smile is both instructive and misleading. As with The Beach Boys, The Avalanches are adept at locating the sliver of sadness that runs through the best pop music. But where Smile was considered a letdown, Wildflower soars to fresh heights.
It’s an open question whether The Avalanches’ fanbase has hung around, but, divorced from the melodrama, Wildflower is a left-field tour de force to cherish.