Album Review: The Avalanches explore space, time, and music on “We Will Always Love You”

The first twenty years of the Avalanches’ careers were filled with a measly two records; yet, those two records managed to hit some of the highest heights ever seen in music, period. Their debut album, Since I Left You (2000), is still the greatest plunderphonics feat ever accomplished, filling one hour with tropical, soulful greatness, and creating unique, storyful environments, all with just the work of other people. Their much-awaited follow-up, Wildflower (2016), modernized some elements, including a Danny Brown feature, and much newer samples, like that of Queens of the Stone Age, but managed to create just-as-unique environments with just-as-impressive tools. Despite the intense success and cult following the group has gathered with those two first two releases, this time they came with a new, less sample-heavy approach in order to experiment with their own sound, come back sooner, and simply start with a clean slate. And even after selling almost all of the 7,000 records in their collection and deciding to add their own instrumentation, everything about We Will Always Love You screams the outstanding, catchy, neo-soul plunderphonics of the group’s older work.

Each entrance in their discography thus far has explored specific aesthetics, environments, and concepts, and the same is true here. In Since I Left You, the story follows a journey across the ocean on a reflective cruise, filled with parties and radio signals. Wildflower brought crowded carnivals, subways, and other americana-themed greatness. This time, it’s all about traveling through the space and time of the music industry; reviving old artists’ influence; emphasizing the human connection to music; and highlighting how the juxtaposing past and present can still meld together, even sixty years later.

These ideas are reflected both in the presentation of the vocals samples they use, and the glistening, spacious instrumentation they accompany them with. The first song, “Ghost Story,” is a phone message recorded by someone after they had abruptly left whatever situation they were in. Its importance to the record as an event isn’t completely laid out, but the instant connection to human beings is very apparent and effective. The flustered person on the other end is an example of the emotional people we all are, and the subtle “I’ll always love you” that ends the call reinforces that universal fact, and the title of the record as well. The recording is then followed by a gorgeous melody made up of tens of layers of human voices, unifying in a single euphoric galaxy of humanity. The track makes a brief appearance later in the record as well, with more ghastly, reverberating vocal layerings that both fit the surreal feeling of the rest of the album, and the “Ghost Story” theme.

The pattern of melancholy, thematically on-par samples making up a majority of the interlude tracks continues throughout the record. “Song for Barbara Payton” immediately follows the first intro track, and is a distant, psychedelic presentation of the idea that “it’s okay if you wanna leave me.” “Solitary Ceremonies” discusses the learning of piano through channeling the spirits of old musicians (Liszt in this case). “Star Song.IMG” is actually the sonic representation of the aforementioned Barbara Payton, created by running the image through a stethograph, and happens to sound like a video game sound effect of something close to a shooting star; which is a very fortunate happenstance. The follow-up to that is the hushed “I was the light” echoing through “Until Daylight Comes.” The twenty-five track record has too many examples of this to name altogether, but all of these moments are where their old plunderphonics come to the highest focus. They maintain the otherworldly feelings that circle the rest of this album, even in the moments where it gets newer and poppier.

The real meat of the record then finds itself on sparsely-located disco and soul grooves, starting with “The Divine Chord,” featuring MGMT. Its upbeat, shimmering synths are counteracted by the nostalgic topic selection, discussing remembering an old friend or ex and constantly dreaming of them. While the selected MGMT feature is what runs the show, the spliced background vocal, “dododo” is a great addition to not lose their throwback flare. “Interstellar Love” is probably the original track most involved with the record’s message, talking about God creating “space and time,” layering the gorgeous voice of Leon Bridges over these filtered, distant voices from long ago, and reverbing it all, because why not? And my personal favorite song, “We Go On,” begins with a tropical beat that could easily be leftover from either of their first two records, and I wouldn’t be incredibly surprised. As soon as the vocal sample of “We go on, hurting each other” enters all the way, a really bouncy synth lead takes over the instrumentation to create a super danceable, 1980s feel to it. The name of the game for each of these combo tracks is finding a way to bring the 20th century to today, and each one does it to pure perfection.

When all twenty-five songs are placed in line with each other, it falls together the way only an Avalanches record can; with seamless transitions at every corner, and an ever-running feeling of fun energy. But importantly, these accepting, danceable details don’t subtract from what the record is supposed to create; a feeling of human connection, and love, using century-old samples. The back-and-forth of new and old on this record is something unlike anything else on an Avalanches record, yet it feels achieved with the greatest of ease. If their first two records weren’t enough to instill a confidence in the group, and their ability to do something great, We Will Always Love You should be the main example used to prove just that. They ditched their plunderphonics-only mindset, grabbed ahold of new artists as vocal guests, and still managed to make it a great addition to their discography, with as many, if not more important lessons to gain. As an Avalanches fan, there’s not much more you could ask for, aside from Since I Left You 2.


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