Wildflower by The Avalanches

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The Avalanches’ Since I Left You proved that you could make a truly great record out of other people’s castoffs. Thousands of scraps of old records, altered and layered beyond recognition, added up to a music that sounded great on the beach while also conjuring up the weird, delicious sadness you feel in a big thrift store, looking at the consumer products of the dead. The album, by its very nature, evokes the relentlessness of time; call it Proustian pop. It sounds as gorgeous now as then, even as the 16 years since—during which the Avalanches have released no new music—add yet another layer of poignancy.

Since they left us, the Avalanches have acquired mythic status even as their innovations became commonplace. Wildflower, then, is one of those albums that arrives at the store with a veil of anticipation and dread; you think of Kate Bush’s Aerial, and you also think, shuddering, of Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy. The record is neither of those, but it’s far nearer the first category than the second.

Wildflower is less sample-based and relies far more heavily on the sort of collaboration that actually involves live bodies in a studio playing together. Collaborators come from all over the musical map, from Father John Misty to, my personal favorite, Biz Markie. As a result, it doesn’t have the seamless, one-long-unfolding-mood quality of its predecessor—there are songs you’ll want to skip. Readers offended by strong language will definitely want to skip the tracks featuring rapper Danny Brown, which iTunes helpfully labels “explicit.” (Personally, I love “The Wozard of Iz.”) But the prettiness and poignancy are still there, along with beats that people not afflicted by Midwestern repression tell me are infinitely danceable.

The lyrics, even when they come from another record, always tell you what the Avalanches are after. On “Subways,” a long-forgotten, 1970s No Wave singer named Chandra intones the words “You walk on the subway, it moves around” like a mantra. And that’s the feeling of Wildflower: motion within motion, your swift movement through your own timeline, within the larger and faster timeline of the world. (Astralwerks)

About the Author

Phil Christman teaches English at the University of Michigan and attends St. Clare's Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor, Mich.

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