The Avalanches: Wildflower review – the feelgood album of the summer?

A pastoral, wistful brand of psychedelia works its retro magic on the Avalanches’ long-awaited comeback

Sixteen years on from their hit Since I Left You, Australian plunderphonics crew the Avalanches have returned with what might turn out to be the feelgood album of the summer. This is a season in sore need of tracks packed with vintage sunshine and “ethereal cereal”.

The group’s comeback has not exactly run smoothly. Wildflower was supposed to include ambitious animations (the funding didn’t work out). The samples have reportedly taken a specialist sample-clearer – a veteran of Beck and Beastie Boys albums – a full five years to greenlight. The group’s old label, Modular, ceased trading. One Avalanche was laid low with autoimmune issues for years.

Now reduced from five or so to two (or so) core members, Robbie Chater and Tony DiBlasi (plus touring member James Dela Cruz), the Avalanches released Wildflower’s long-awaited first cut, Frankie Sinatra, back in June. The prevailing reaction was polite bemusement. Having waited a teenage lifetime for another wistful, layered sampladelic track about love and possibility (like their most famous single, Since I Left You), or a clever cut-and-shut made up of film dialogue and horse noises (like their other most famous single, Frontier Psychiatrist), fans were being served up a bratty, stoned, old-school rap that mixed calypso and oompah music and a jazzy sample of My Favourite Things.

Watch the video for Frankie Sinatra

Living, breathing rappers Danny Brown and MF Doom provided actual verses on Frankie Sinatra, trading off against sampled calypsonian Wilmouth Houdini – a departure from the exclusively sampled nature of the band’s previous modus operandi. Frankie Sinatra was brash. It was brassy. It was, as it turns out, both unrepresentative of the rest of the album, and a bit of a grower.

There is a fair amount of silliness abroad on Wildflower, not least on cartoonish tracks like The Noisy Eater, fronted by blast-from-the-past Biz Markie. A song with a clear case of the munchies, it features a children’s choir singing the Beatles’ Come Together (Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono gave their blessing). The short title track is another addled reverie that starts as a faux ad for “ethereal cereal” – “with the added punch of 0.02 ESP units of pectin!” – and proceeds hazily, via Jonathan Donahue of Mercury Rev playing the bowed saw. Happily, the guest vocalists (Father John Misty’s Josh Tillman, Jennifer Herrema once of Royal Trux, Toro y Moi) aren’t too front-and-centre, but largely absorbed into the larger patchwork of sounds.

Although the idea of the tapestry album remains current – see Blood Orange’s sample-happy collage of last week, Freetown Sound, for instance – Wildflower combines its un-gangsterish rappers, soul samples and its trawled sonic flotsam in a very analogue, retro manner. A pastoral, wistful brand of psychedelia holds sway throughout this absorbing record – even though Wildflower is, to all extents and purposes, a retro hip-hop album about smoking weed.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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