The Avalanches, Wildflower, album review: ‘A joyous affirmation of life’
When, 15 years ago, The Avalanches released their debut album Since I Left You, it seemed like the dawning of a new age of DJ sample-craft, its welcoming grooves sculpted from myriad overlaid orchestral moods and sonic fragments, creating an exotic swirl of sound within which strange sampled bedfellows – Mama Cass, The Swingle Singers, Kid Creole and Debbie Reynolds, for starters – found curious congruency. Since then, nothing: this landmark album came to seem like some abandoned artefact from the pre-9/11 era, a ghostly reminder of lighter times.
So the appearance of the wonderful Wildflower is cause for celebration, its Zappa/Beasties-style collage of voices, samples, beats, sounds, and especially laughter offering a joyous affirmation of life, right from the Fifties R&B kid sampled on “Because I’m Me”, through to the concluding love poem of the exultant “Saturday Night Inside Out”. That opening voice sets the tone for the whole album, to which high, pitch-shifted vocals lend a childlike charm, showered with shimmering orchestral glissandi by arranger Jean-Michel Bernard.
Further sampled children – 10-year-old Chandra Oppenheim on “Subways”, a Jerry Lewis children’s record on “The Noisy Eater” – extend the innocent mood, while the overall lightness of spirit is heightened by elements such as the dancing clarinet and tuba of the calypso single “Frankie Sinatra”, and the bright, optimistic themes of songs such as “Colours”, “Harmony” and “Kaleidoscopic Lovers”, all featuring vocals from Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue. Other contributors include rappers Biz Markie and MF Doom, and singers Toro y Moi, Jennifer Herrema and Father John Misty, each anchoring tracks that threaten to loose their moorings, the sound shifting in and out of focus like a radio being tuned, while voices chatter in the background, as if we’re at a beach party or earwigging the detritus of someone’s life.
Other ambient recordings are woven into the songs: traffic noises are synced into “If I Was A Folkstar”, and at one point in “Live A Lifetime Love”, a traffic-cop pulls us over. But he can’t kill the buzz of an album that seethes with positive energy, a vacation for the weary soul. All we need now is the summer to match.