Samples have been a key piece in music production for the past fifty-or-so years, but as the global catalogue of music increases in size, the tool becomes even more relevant. At first, it was hip-hop that ran the show, with emcees spitting bars over a variety of sampled percussive tracks; then it invaded the pop sphere with songs like Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love;” and at some point in its progress towards the top, it became its own genre of music known as plunderphonics. But no matter their widespread use, the kings of plunderphonics, since the release of their debut 2000 record, Since I Left You, have undoubtedly been Australia’s finest—the Avalanches—and that fact seems far from changing.
Anyone’s first listen of the now-classic, Since I Left You, will likely be followed by some sort of confusion. Despite being released in 2000, it’s much more of a soundtrack to a 50s or 60s cruise, filling the empty space with classic soul grooves and comedy duos lost to history. It also flows seamlessly, with only others’ work woven together, lacking any sort of Avalanches-specific glue tying it together. It just works, and it really shouldn’t.
Wildflower (2016) is then the continuation of this musical approach. It’s not quite as consistent, it may utilize a few guest performances, but it still manages to maintain a solid continuation and development that never skips a beat. It’s a trippy, psychedelic, feel-good record that follows the general patterns established sixteen years prior. And unless you compare it to its flawless predecessor, it’s really hard to get nitpicky with it.
If anything was going to trip them up, it was going to be the recently-released We Will Always Love You (2020). They threw away many of their records, decided to work with a variety of featured artists, and shied away from the sample-only rule that they seemed to have. But in actuality, nothing really changed. Their soulful, joyous music found its stride with tracks like “The Divine Chord,” and “We Go On.” The thematics were solid, focusing on space and time, human relationships, and honoring the past. And most importantly, the samples were still there, flowing into each other with an eerie consistency that only they could pull off. So now, after three releases, each reinventing the wheel in some form or another, they’ve established themselves as much more than just sampling artists. Instead, they’re simply musically brilliant, and anyone who enjoys their music should be looking forward to the future. And in honor of both their new release, and historic perseverance, here is a list of The Avalanches’ top 10 songs.
10. “Interstellar Love”
The conceptual centerpiece to We Will Always Love You just happens to be one of the prettier cuts on the record too: “Interstellar Love.” Some thoughtful words from Leon Bridges explain the importance of love, and exactly how unbelievable it is. They also wish for both our love and our souls to be “among the stars.” This is what the Voyager Golden Record project attempted to accomplish, and what We Will Always Love You is trying to mirror. If its ambition wasn’t enough to sell you though, the hollow, echoey surrounding and glistening pianos almost transport you, yourself to space. The wide-open sonic environment is endless, creating an almost-weightless experience.
Wildflower is coated in the psychedelic, hippie-filled days of the late 60s and early 70s, and “Colours” is the essence of that. After the amusing intro of kids saying you can “see all the colours,” the track is a joyful statement about humanity and love, recognizing “no one wants to be alone.” Often-times reversed samples can sound eerie and creepy, but in this case, the reversed, repeated chorus blends into the bright orchestral accompaniment to make an even more positive sound. It lacks the technical side that many of their hits possess, but what it lacks in complexity, it makes up for in its message, and its blatant acceptance of everyone makes it hard to not smile as you listen along.
8. “We Go On”
“We Go On” is equal parts touching, and uplifting. The song begins with an overt tribute to the source of the sample, Karen Carpenter, as the intro ends and they say “We send our love to you, Karen.” The following three-or-so minutes are filled with the Carpenters’ “we go on, hurting each other,” referencing the daily troubles humanity faces within itself. But at the same time, the added verses from Cola Boyy are childish and fun. He’s supposedly “walking up the hill, singing back a song,” while simultaneously questioning why he has to fight so hard to stay on his current payroll—a very relatable sentiment. His joyous, bouncy voice brings a bright light that drowns out the somewhat-negative reality of the repeated chorus.
7. “Two Hearts In 3/4 Time”
The breezy song, “Two Hearts In 3/4 Time,” is as simplistic and care-free as the Avalanches get. All of the “La las” skip by leisurely the whole time, accompanied by a keyboard that balances between a Yes keyboard solo, and elevator music—two vastly different feelings that both work well. Though it lacks any sort of thematic expansion, Since I Left You is an often-complex experience, and the break is incredibly welcome. Plus, the gorgeous way it goes about doing it is an extra plus. Truthfully, it could be lengthened from three minutes to four or five, and I would enjoy it all the same.
6. “Take Care In Your Dreaming”
Unlike the standard, production-dominated focus of the Avalanches, “Take Care In Your Dreaming” is mostly carried by the lyrical content of the featured artists. In a quick, understated verse, Denzel Curry spits the harsh truths of his life, telling a story of a young and lonely Curry. It arguably rivals some of the best verses from his magnum opus, TA13OO (2018). Following that is then Sampa’s just-as-heartbreaking verse, discussing her humble past from Southern Africa. But while much of the song is filled with sad stories, it does have a somewhat-positive message, telling everyone to love as much they can, because life is beautiful.
To some, “Subways” might seem a bit repetitive and simplistic, looping the same Chandra sample over and over as a majority of the lyrical content, but the tiny samples and environmental effects are what truly make the track outstanding. The vocal samples and instrumentation often become distant, as if you’re actually walking along a subway train, going in and out of focus. The periodic addition of women and children talking, and the random “na na na” that appears once on the track bring a sense of reality to the otherwise-mesmerizing score of funky bass lines and glistening electronic effects, making it slightly less catchy, but much more meaningful—especially in the specific context of the record. Most songs have to choose between worldbuilding and fun choruses, but “Subways” does both perfectly.
4. “A Different Feeling”
Unlike many of the Avalanches’ hits—which offer only small fractions of a story—“A Different Feeling” encompasses a story by itself. The singular hook is “Tammy, Tammy, Tammy’s in love,” but through using clever, mood-setting music, the group throws it into multiple contexts. The first two are surrounded with a subtle, simple beat, and some shiny synths, as if they represented the first few moments, when the love sparked. The second set fades in front of a similar instrumental, but with a more-danceable beat, making it a tad more playful. Finally, the strings truly come in, and circling the standard line is then very dramatic orchestral passages, either hinting at a romantic climax, or I suppose a painful end. Whatever the result, in just four minutes, so many separate events unfold.
3. “Frontier Psychiatrist”
I will likely never shut up about the Avalanches’ ability to craft melodies out of anything, and “Frontier Psychiatrist” is always my main example. With primarily-vocal samples from comedy duos, listening to “Frontier Psychiatrist” feels almost like a TV show, more than a song. The zany fun and random quips appear from the void saying things like, “Some birds are funny when they talk.” Then, the main stars of the show are the passionate exclamations of “that boy needs therapy,” and “psychosomatic,” which together craft the suspiciously-pleasing chorus. The track is also filled with unnecessary but great details, like a man saying the word “violin,” right before the progression takes a turn and a violin section comes in.
2. “Since I Left You / Stay Another Season”
Much like the aforementioned track, “Subways,” “Since I Left You” maintains an insanely catchy hook, all while introducing you to the new and fruitful world of the record. The microscopic chattering that starts everything off and continues through its entirety immerses you in a fictional universe of cruises and beaches. Following that is one of the most complex, layered songs I have had the pleasure of hearing. The instrumental features all of the following, and more: maracas, multiple synths, bells, different layers of orchestral strings, woodwinds, and backup singers. The idea that many of them were stripped from different records then only adds to the impressive accomplishment. Of course, tied to “Since I Left You,” is also “Stay Another Season.” The follow-up to the gorgeous intro is just as important, as it pulls away the main pieces of the music, leaving nothing but a funky bass line, environmental effects, and an incredibly distant “since I left you.”
1. “Because I’m Me”
The introduction to the wildly-colorful Wildflower is possibly the most infectiously-positive song ever written and produced. Dealing with the acceptance of rejection, the track recognizes the world’s negatives, and goes on with life because, well, “I’m me.” Outside of its relatability, it has an incredibly stacked instrumental as well, mixing the groove of soul, the beat of disco, and the jazzy orchestral backing of strings and trumpets. If that wasn’t enough to damn genres altogether, the quick flow of Sonny Cheeba’s rapping rivals any other Avalanches feature, including the charismatic Danny Brown on “Frankie Sinatra,” and the life-changing reflection of Denzel Curry on “Take Care In Your Dreaming.” The vague declaration of “I’m me” was already strong enough to be a self-empowering anthem, but mixing it with universal music inclusion makes it all-encompassing to the ears as well.