by Bryce Browning
Rainbows, clowns, roller rinks, acid trips, and unicorns. These are the first words that come to mind when I think about Wildflower by The Avalanches. This album — and their career — is a microcosm of sounds, altered music spanning multiple decades, and counterculture product placement. This should be expected from a group that has mastered “plunderphonics,” a style of music where you take one or more existing audio recordings and alter them to make a new composition. Plunderphonics is mostly used in hip-hop and house music — just think about any heavily sampled song or album. Some of the most successful DJs and artists in this genre include DJ Shadow (especially his 1996 classic Endtroducing...) and MF Doom’s entire career. On a less hip-hop focused effort, The Avalanches have made their own lane since their 2000 masterpiece Since I Left You and now, the much anticipated Wildflower.
How do I even begin describing the sonic collage that is Wildflower? There are an estimated 3,500+ samples that can be heard on the album (although most of them can be unrecognizable because they are minor sounds — like a dog bark or footstep) that range from The Beatles, Queens of the Stone Age, dialogue from movies, and The Bee Gees. With all the complexities of making an album like this, the final sound is a perfect mixture of yin and yang.
At moments, it is pure bliss (listen to “Harmony”) and at others, it is a bad acid trip (listen to “The Noisy Eater”). Robbie Chater, one half of The Avalanches, has noted that “Sunshine” was included in the album at the last minute – but is one of his favorite tracks on Wildflower. In his track-by-track breakdown, he said, “It starts off appearing like it's a very happy, joyous song, but there's a twist in the tale when the sample reveals that it's actually about someone having their sunshine taken away — the blue skies turn grey. It's really a song for everybody out there who's every lost love, who's ever been broken-hearted.”
The emotion behind the samples that Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi create on Wildflower is a spectacle to lose yourself in and explore throughout the album.
Let’s talk a little about some stand out songs that are representative of the genius orchestration of Wildflower. When I first heard their single “Frankie Sinatra,” I immediately thought it was a new MF Doom track, to then be pleasantly surprised to hear Doom actually rap on the song. I thought this was a wonderful and very self-aware action by The Avalanches to add him to the song. “Frankie Sinatra” sounds like a circus, all its stages and acts combined into one song with a heavy bassline — then out of nowhere, Danny Brown comes in and terrorizes the beat.
Brown comes in and raps, “Off this rocker / He's off his rocker / Please, Mr. Officer, I only had some vodka / Little marijuana, just a few Vicodin / Only reefer swervin' out here while I'm driving / Where your registration, OG license / 'Cause of that interior, your bitch wanna ride this / Plate red bold cat, dick got LoJack / White hoes calling and they asking where the dope at.”
It’s a crazy experience that you should listen to and enjoy.
Another standout track on the album is “Harmony,” which begins with a children's choir chanting “H-A-R-M-O-N-Y” and then layers a joyous blend of sounds and spoken word. The song literally has birds chirping and kids in the background laughing and playing while the word harmony can be heard repeated. The backdrop beat has an upbeat tempo that encourages you to skip along to the drums.
Wildflower by The Avalanches sounds like a Beach Boys’ dream then conceptualized and recorded by MF Doom. The album is a collage of sounds that represent our fears, ambitions and emotions.
Song You Need To Hear: "Frankie Sinatra"