This review was originally published in the October 2001 issue of Bigbendmusic. In honor of the release of the Avalanches’ long-awaited sophomore album, Wildflower, we’ve republished this piece here.
In music, misery’s got a monopoly on credibility — just ask Thom and Trent. A furrowed brow and a tormented soul are essential if you aspire to “deep.” “Happy,” however is tough to pull off without seeming smugly serene, irritatingly jaunty, or simply simple-minded. There are exceptions of course — Al Green, Brian Wilson, and most Krautrockers could all rejoice without coming across as pretty vacant. Now, Australian dance six-piece the Avalanches join this illustrious minority. Just as the Inuit have more than 30 words for snow, the Avalanches’ music revels in a thousand subtle shades of joy.
Dance music’s own version of “deep” is “dark.” “Dark” typically refers to genres in which bass frequencies dominate and treble’s been purged (along with melody, the human voice, and any general pleasantness). On Since I Left You, by contrast, you barely notice the bass lines (except when the groove from Madonna’s “Holiday” skips into the mix), while the pounding house beat is more rudimentary than even Daft Punk’s. Instead, the Avalanches’ sound is all about the high end: swirling strings, spangly harps, billowing flutes, twinkly trickles of electric piano, dulcet feminine harmonies. The densely layered cornucopia of dazzle (a thousand samples from hundreds of records) is the end product of 18 months spent combing Australian thrift stores for used vinyl. And on tracks like “Two Hearts in 3/4 Time” and “A Different Feeling,” the Avalanches’ tweeter overload is like a cross between Stereolab’s Francophile easy listening and Stardust’s French filter disco. Treble not only evokes light, it creates light-headedness.
With not gaps between its 18 tracks, just a relentless party groove, Since I Left You is so madly glad, it’s demented. But it’s not all nonstop rhapsodic. There are exquisite bittersweet tints to tracks like “Etoh,” lending the record a sense of heart-bursting euphoria shadowed by the intimation that all things must pass. But as its title hints, Since I Left You’s underlying, unspoken concept is about unburdening yourself of such foreboding feelings — shedding the dead weight of personal history and floating off to some exotic Elsewhere (“You can book a flight tonight” goes one sample, which could refer to taking a vacation or a drug). Gravity, in every sense, is abandoned. Go with their flow.