"Get a drink, have a good time now, welcome to paradise." Amid the excitable hubbub of what sounds like a Hawaiian beach party in full swing, the sampled voice at the beginning of Since I Left You says it all. This is not going to be an album that frightens parents, upsets the status quo or attempts to unravel the mysteries of the human soul. Instead, it offers an hour of pure, exhilarating escapism; not such a noble aim perhaps, but often just as necessary.
The Avalanches' debut album was finally released in the UK in April 2001 after a lengthy period in legal limbo. This was because it's painstakingly stitched together from what its creators – a pair of affable Aussies called Darren Seltmann and Robbie Chater – estimate are more than 3,500 samples of other records. The album eschews almost all original musicianship, even when just playing a chord on a keyboard would have been the simplest option, because Seltmann and Chater wanted to ensure every single note sounded evocative of another time and place. As a result, the dense layering of samples and disparate musical cues achieves an almost psychedelic effect, propelling you around the world in 60 minutes, leaving you dizzy with pleasure.
This is no Girl Talk-style cut-and-shut job. The title track alone combines elements from a Rose Royce disco record, two different numbers by easy listening jazz guitarist Tony Mottola, a hefty slug of doo wop courtesy of the Duprees, the beats from a Lamont Dozier solo record, some kitsch Latin organ from Klaus Wunderlich, and a pitched-up vocal from a song by obscure 60s pop band the Main Attraction. At times it all feels perilously close to collapse, but the faint sense of queasiness only enhances the trip.
There are unexpected delights around every corner: the gorgeous sighed vocals of Two Hearts in 3/4 Time, Saian Supa Crew parachuting in to add a fiery French rap to Flight Tonight, Electricity's Neptunian operatic overture (one of the few snatches of music recorded specifically for the record), Extra Kings' wistful flute loop. In this exalted context, even the novelty of Frontier Psychiatrist ("that boy needs therapy!") is slow to fade.
You could argue that Since I Left You, with its brazen lack of original content, represents the sound of pop finally eating itself. Certainly the Avalanches' failure to produce a follow-up, even more than a decade later, suggests it led its creators down a cul-de-sac. But actually, this album is far less cynical in the way that it recycles the past than most contemporary rock and pop. Since I Left You is not just a nostalgic fantasy voyage, it's an album about the evocative power of music, and how just a fragment of it has the ability to open up whole new vistas of the imagination.
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