Despite the ever-evolving nature of music, and the endless amount of landmark records that are released every year, there are few albums in music history that can compare to Since I Left You (2000). Plunderphonics by its pure nature is overly-complicated. The technical achievement of crafting a one-hour-long record, entirely out of sampling others’ work, is one that requires a lot of time, effort, and creativity. Estimates on how many samples there are on this project range anywhere from 3,500, to 900, but even in the event of it being less, the point is clear. It’s a heck of a lot. So, it’s not too unexpected that throughout their twenty-three year, uninterrupted careers, they’ve only released two LPs, and a third that will be coming out next month.
Past the utter complexity of the feat is the conceptual masterpiece this album doubles as, alongside a seamless fluidity, much like the water on the cover. The project began development with the initial title, Pablo’s Cruise, and a concept of Pablo following his love around the world, through various ports. But even as they abandoned that initial idea, and the idea of a concept album altogether, everything seems to still make sense. The title track, and introduction to the journey, brings a message of failed relationships and new beginnings, all wrapped in tropical environments. “Since I left you, I found the world so new,” echoes throughout both of the first two featured songs, indicating the cruise they’re departing on is perhaps signalling the birth of something brand new. Thus, the following hour follows this person; the events, the views, and the moods projected through these individual tracks. It’s important to note that this theory does lack confirmation, and will likely stay that way, as they said they didn’t want their themes to be too obvious. So instead, the listener is left with the gorgeous music, and their own interpretations. Yet, to most people I’ve talked to, everything appears to have some significance, even if they can’t put their finger on it.
A lot of what allows the record to make such inherent sense, without any true guidance, is the simple fact that it flows so smoothly, without any road bumps. It’s clear the group worked on everything as if it were a single song, rather than assembling separate, smaller projects into something much larger. The singular point of view they approached the project with likely aided them in making it such a solid piece of work. While every entrance brings the audience to something completely new, nothing comes out of nowhere. For example, the romantic humming and synth notes on “Two Hearts in 3/4 Time,” has very little in common with the soon-to-follow “Flight Tonight,” and its high-pitched electronic beeps, and hip-hop beats. Strategically, the interlude track, “Avalanche Rock,” bridges the two with an intelligent, looped sample that brings in the hip-hop flare, without jumping straight in. Similarly, the wacky “Frontier Psychiatrist” could easily be separated from everything else on this entire project; but the candid boat horns on “Pablo’s Cruise” create a mood reset before the sharp turn. Transitioning between samples is maybe the hardest part of assembling them together, but in the case of Since I Left You, everything is placed with such genius that it could masquerade as all-original.
The quality of this record isn’t simply tied to the outstanding ability of the group to make a project of this nature, though. If instead, these unique tracks were all released on their own, they’d still hang onto their merit, with few exceptions potentially coming from the thirty-second interludes. The aforementioned “Frontier Psychiatrist” is one of the main highlights, and one of the more famous songs the group has come out with period; most likely due to its eccentricity. After the echoing horse neighing through the television, there is a quick sample of a doctor, or teacher of some sort describing a kid’s insanity. Then everything breaks down and the instrumental layers appear, before the oddly catchy “That boy needs therapy” floats around your head for four long minutes. It’s a sonic experience that makes zero sense, no matter how many repeat listens you give it. The vocal samples are hardly melodic, but their individual placement, and the harrowing background horns all coalesce into an earworm of a hook. Most of the other tracks don’t hold onto this nonsensical whimsy, yet many of them do stay stuck in your head (most notably “Electricity”), proving even outside of the context of the record, they’re big hits.
Since I Left You is a musical achievement by itself. The Avalanches’ extended usage of samples is its own form of art. Even with others’ work, they make a very personalized, intimate experience, and that’s apparently with the intention of hiding specific themes. No matter the exact number of samples featured, the flow of the record stays consistent and smooth, but every song still manages to stand on its own. While the lengthy follow-up to this project, Wildflower (2016), is also incredibly impressive, its existence came through artist collaborations, and sixteen years. This, now twenty-year-old album, came with much less time or aid, and still comes out ahead in the long run. We’ll soon see if their third attempt can match the first, but without significant, new technological innovation, it will likely lack the same iconic features.