According to an email I received a few hours ago, my vinyl copy of Wildflower, the first new Avalanches album in 16 years, is officially on the way. It’s on the back of some truck, crammed next to bills, letters, and other random packages, in the middle of its long journey to my front door.
Thanks to the band releasing Wildflower on Apple Music a week early, however, I’ve already listened to the whole thing a handful of times. Now, much like Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool—which I wrote about back in May with 2 other longtime fans—I don’t want to offer a full review after just a few listens. I spent 16 years with the Avalanches’ first album, Since I Left You, and it doesn’t seem right to spend just a week with Wildflower before handing down a verdict. Dust needs to settle. Things need to soak in.
I’m definitely ready to share some initial thoughts, though … so let’s do this!
When I first discovered Since I Left You, it sounded like nothing else I had ever heard. Sure, it sounded a bit like the Dust Brothers’ work on albums such as Paul’s Boutique and Odelay, and it seemed vaguely related to the early sample-based masterworks of DJ Shadow, but the Avalanches were also paving their own way. Since I Left You had its own vibe, and it made for one of the best party albums of an entire generation.
Wildflower shows us that the Avalanches still very much sound like the Avalanches, but with some unexpected shifts. The guest emcees, for instance, will remind listeners of a Gorillaz album. It’s not just the rapping either—the band also seems more focused on constructing complete songs this time around. With Since I Left You, it was often impossible to tell where one song ended and the next began; the album was just there, in its entirety, ready for you to press play and start dancing. With Wildflower, meanwhile, it’s much easier to tell where one thought ends and the next begins. Nowhere is this more evident than on the record’s first two tracks: “Because I’m Me” and lead single “Frankie Sinatra.” Maybe it’s because they are back to back and not spread out a bit more, but hearing them one after another makes Wildflower resemble a compilation more than a, say, a mixtape or fully-formed album.
Now … is this change a negative? Heavens no! If the songs were duds, sure, “Because I’m Me” and “Frankie Sinatra” would have me worried; but both are strong efforts that merit repeat listens, especially the latter. “Because I’m Me” actually didn’t do much for me the first time around, but once I played the album again, it worked perfectly for me. Once you replace worrying about expectations with pure enjoyment, everything makes a lot more sense. It all works.
The last two thirds of Wildflower actually do flow as a full album much more than that first third, especially the glorious five-track run from “Harmony” to “The Wozard of Iz.” That’s the Avalanches we all came to know and love, and they haven’t missed a step.
This album is full of highlights, but I do want to stop for a moment and reflect on “The Wozard of Iz” for a moment. It might just be the best song of the bunch, and I don’t say that lightly. The hook is instantly memorable, much like the strongest moments on Since I Left You, and it rides a few fantastic drum breaks before making way for a flurry of secondary samples and a quick verse from Danny Brown.
“Subways” and “Sunshine” stand out as the two other strongest tracks, but as I’ve said, it’s very early. In another few days, it’s impossible to tell which moments I’ll be connecting with the most.
What’s important here is that it sounds like the Avalanches have given us a worthy follow-up to one of the biggest albums of the last two decades. I’m not ready to say it’s the best album of the year or anything—you are safe for now, Mr. James Blake—but it’s a hell of a ride. Highly recommended!