The very concept of a second The Avalanches album seemed to become something of a standing joke in the last few years. Rather like Guns n’ Roses‘ long delayed Chinese Democracy or My Bloody Valentine‘s 20-plus year gestation of a follow-up to Loveless, the idea of The Avalanches actually producing another record seemed a flight of fancy at best, cruel fan-baiting trolling at worst. Now it’s actually here, and poor old Frank Ocean is going to have to be the butt of the ‘get a move on will you’ gags for now.
So, 16 years on from Since I Left You, what does Wildflower actually sound like? The probably unsurprising answer is that it sounds a lot like Since I Left You – like its predecessor, it’s a long, sprawling album (just over an hour), with tracks that run into each other and an entire patchwork quilt of beautifully stitched together samples. The only difference this time round is the parade of guest vocalists – a stellar list including names like MF Doom, Jonathan Donahue of Mercury Rev, Father John Misty, Danny Brown and Biz Markie. Why, even that old Bad Seed Warren Ellis makes an appearance playing violin on Stepkids.
And, like Since I Left You, there’s the sense of everything bar the kitchen sink being thrown into proceedings – and, while this can be exhilarating at times, it can also be exhausting, so by the time the last few tracks roll around, a slight sense of weariness has set in. After 16 years, you could expect Wildflower to sound a bit tighter and more focused. Yet, without that always-present sense of restlessness that always seems to be floating beneath the surface, this wouldn’t be an Avalanches album.
The first track to be released from Wildflower was Frankie Sinatra, and it’s fair to say that most people indulged in a bit of head-scratching on first listen. This took 16 years? A calypso-flavoured take on early Gorillaz, with a snippet of My Favourite Things thrown in for good measure? Yet it’s insanely addictive, the dual rap from Danny Brown and MF Doom works impossibly well and, although it’s an essentially nonsense song, like Frontier Psychiatrist it never fails to put a smile on your face.
It’s an emotion that’s conjured up throughout Wildflower – maybe because the last Avalanches record came from a more carefree, pre-9/11 time and Wildflower does sound like a bit of a nostalgia trip – and from the opening 18 second snippet The Leaves Were Falling right up to the trippy, disorientating closer Saturday Night Inside Out, it does feel a bit like stepping back in time to a happier place. It’s also the sort of album where you’ve no idea what’s coming next – it could be a child singing along to an old ’70s soul song in Because It’s Me or a choir singing The Beatles’ Come Together at the end of a track all about eating food (The Noisy Eater).
Most of all though, what Robbie Chater, Tony Di Blasi and James Dela Cruz are so good at is creating a sense of euphoria – such as when Camp Lo‘s rap kicks in on Because It’s Me, or the wide-eyed sense of wonder that Jonathan Donahue brings to Colours (the sole song on Wildflower that doesn’t feature any samples). Subways perfectly captures the excitement of exploring a brand new city, while Jennifer Herrema of Royal Trux invokes yet more mid ’90s nostalgia on the Folk Implosion-sampling Stepkids.
Wildflower is one of those records that you find new things each time you listen to it and although it sometimes threatens to fall apart under the weight of its own ambition, it becomes ever more rewarding with every listen. Although it will inevitably disappoint some – an expectation that huge can never really be met – it will be the album that soundtracks the hippest barbecues and pool parties this summer. And, if we have to wait until 2031 for the third Avalanches album, we’ll have plenty to explore in the meantime.