The Avalanches' Wildflower album cover

BLIND TASTE TEST: The Avalanches – Wildflower

It’s time for another ‘Blind Taste Test’ folks. If this is your first time on the site, you may be wondering what on earth that phrase means. Well, it’s where one of our writers recommends an album they love to another writer who has never listened to it – and they pen their thoughts on their first listen.

Last week, James Spearing took on one of Matt Paul’s favourites, Im Sinne der Zeit by Klauss Johann Grobe. His reaction was… lukewarm. Undeterred, James is back again. Let’s see if this week’s recommendation of The Avalanches’ 2016 record Wildflower by Tom Burrows went down any smoother…

Dear James,

I know that like me, you’re a big fan of Since I Left You, so I was surprised to find out, in the course of co-writing our review of the new Avalanches record, that you hadn’t heard Wildflower. Then again, it did take 16 YEARS to come out, so I think a fair few people overlooked it.

The ‘long-awaited follow-up’ is a bit of a no-win for everyone. It’s basically one big opportunity to disappoint everybody isn’t it?

Wildflower wasn’t another Since I Left You, but it wasn’t their Chinese Democracy either. Because they still had a central concept, a host of weird and wonderful samples, and creators dedicated to creating a great record, they came up with another very enjoyable musical experience. They also had guests – Danny Brown, MF Doom, Toro y Moi and David Berman to name a few – who all added to the whole.

I think you’ll like it, but I’m interested to hear what you think of Wildflower now that we’re removed from the hype and expectation.

Godspeed,
Tom

Thanks Tom. Yes you’re right, Wildflower definitely passed me by on release. Having spent time with We Will Always Love You earlier this year, I’m definitely interested to see how Wildflower sits between the Avalanches’ debut and most recent release. It sounds like it does fit neatly from your description, with some guests adding to their trademark sampling, but without the guests front and centre as they are on We Will Always Love You. My first worry is the length – it’s over an hour long. I’m not bothered by this on Since I Left You but found it to be the main drawback of We Will Always Love You. Let’s see if there’s enough in there to keep me hooked all the way through. My other concern is that being an Avalanches album it’s going to be way too densely packed to really do the album justice in one Blind Taste Test – I will try my hardest!

It’s clear from early on that, like Since I Left You, the distinction between tracks is fairly redundant as the sounds merge together and one sequence of samples moves into another rather than stopping and starting. Another early feature is some prominent rapping – I’m not sure who exactly it is at this point – but this is a different sound and a different way of using sounds (live plus samples) for them.

‘Frankie Sinatra’ is annoying, but annoyingly catchy. It was stuck in my head for many hours after I listened to the album. ‘If I Was A Folkstar’ I like a lot for the opposite reason.

My feeling so far is that the focus, or inspiration for this album is more that of a city. Listening to Since I Left You there are constant references to holiday and paradise – an album for the beach or the poolside, but Wildflower is somehow less relaxed and slightly edgier. There are snippets of what sounds like traffic mixed in with the samples. It’s not departing from the Avalanches sunny sound, but to me it has shifted location. To me there’s also a Sgt. Pepper’s vibe to things with waltzy fairground sounds here and there.

I’m approaching halfway now and I’m yet to hear a real standout track. Sure, there’s little to dislike. At the same time I feel I need something more to really grab me. So ‘Harmony’ comes just in time. There is a sense that they’ve tried to write another ‘Since I Left You’ (the song not the album) with similar strings, flute and dialogue samples. Is it as good as ‘Since I Left You’? No. Do I like it? Yes. Playlisted.

Following soon after is ‘Live a Lifetime Love’. I don’t think I’ve heard so much variety in rapping styles and rhythmic flows together in one track before. Really surprising stuff.

With 22 tracks on this album, it’s hard to keep up. The pace leaves no room to get bored and I’m not feeling like it’s dragging at all. ‘Sunshine’ is an obvious subject for an Avalanches track, but I’m sold. Again I find myself hitting “add to playlist”. The remainder of the album washes over me enjoyably. There’s more work to do in appreciating the depths of this album. But that’s ok. Work is probably the wrong word altogether. It won’t be a chore and it’s totally expected – I never thought I would be able to get everything this album had to offer on a first listen.

I think I would have been disappointed if had listened I had listened to Wildflower when it was released, so you’re right in thinking that some detachment from time and place is beneficial. From a single listen, it’s probably The Avalanches’ worst album. But that’s coming from an unattainably high benchmark. Worst does by no means equate to bad here. It deserves many more listens and more time spent with it – something I will endeavour to do.

Words by James Spearing and Tom Burrows.

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