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Wildflower (The Avalanches album)

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Wildflower
A psychedelic version of the United States flag with a butterfly superimposed atop
Studio album by The Avalanches
Released 1 July 2016 (2016-07-01)
Recorded 2000 – March 2016
Studio Sing Sing Studios, Melbourne, Victoria
Genre
Length 59:31
Label
Producer
  • Robbie Chater
  • Tony Di Blasi
The Avalanches chronology
Since I Left You
(2000)Since I Left You2000
Wildflower
(2016)
Singles from Wildflower
  1. "Frankie Sinatra (extended mix)"
    Released: 2 June 2016
  2. "Colours"
    Released: 16 June 2016[1]
  3. "Subways"
    Released: 22 June 2016[2]

Wildflower is the second studio album recorded by Australian electronic music group the Avalanches. It was first released for streaming on Apple Music on 1 July 2016, and saw a full release a week later on 8 July. It was issued through Modular Recordings, Astralwerks, XL Recordings, and EMI. Production of the album was led by Robbie Chater with assistance from Tony Di Blasi and lasted nearly 16 years, commencing shortly after the release of their debut album, Since I Left You, in November 2000 and not concluding until March 2016. The album features multiple guest collaborators providing vocals and live instrumentation across its 21 tracks. Wildflower also features extensive sampling, especially from 1960s psychedelic music, and relates to the era through themes of counterculture and anti-establishment. Chater described the album's structure as a road trip from a hyperrealistic urban environment to somewhere remote and far away while on LSD.

After the release of Since I Left You in 2000, the Avalanches toured and continued to produce music. For over a decade, the group worked on a wide variety of projects, producing new tracks while also collaborating with multiple artists. The album was described in 2005 as "ambient world music", and by early 2007, the band was considering over 40 tracks for an album which had become mostly hip hop-oriented. The record's production was stalled due to Chater being ill for three years, and the group had also become more involved in separate projects which pulled them away from the album. Some of their most time-consuming work included the score to a musical, King Kong (2013), and an animated musical film described as a "hip hop version of Yellow Submarine" which lost funding and was never completed. Wildflower features many remnants from these projects and was compiled using these tracks in a similar fashion of making a mixtape.

Teasing of the album began in April 2016, and it was formally announced in June alongside the release of its first single, an extended mix of "Frankie Sinatra" (2016). Upon release, Wildflower received critical acclaim. Critics praised the production of the album although most compared it less favourably to Since I Left You. The record also experienced commercial success; it reached number one in the band's native Australia and the top 10 in the United Kingdom. The Avalanches had to leave out many tracks which did not fit with the theme of the album, including some written with guest collaborators. They plan to release these songs "within a year" of the album's release in order to provide a start to produce new material.

Background[edit]

After the release of their debut album, Since I Left You, the Avalanches continued to produce music and were touring until 2003.[3][4][5] At least one track from the album's final cut had begun taking shape in 2000.[6] One of the group's earliest collaborations was with Luke Steele in 2003, creating "tripped out rock 'n' roll" with both Steele and Di Blasi singing. Remnants of this project are reflected in the track "Colours" (2016).[4][7] Until the mid-2000s, the group continued producing new music, although there was no coherent theme between the tracks nor any plans for a studio record.[3] Robbie Chater was ill for three years during this time with two auto-immune diseases which left him unable to produce music.[7][8] He underwent a treatment using ibogaine, a potent hallucinogenic drug.[7] In February 2005, Darren Seltmann said the album was a work-in-progress and described it as "ambient world music". He also stated the album would include both sampling and live music.[5] In August 2006, Modular Recordings issued a press release stating "it's sounding like everything we dared not hope for, and so much more. They've made the record of their lives basically".[9] This was in response to a joke email which had reached the music press, in which Modular claimed it had rejected the group's new album.[10] In January 2007, the band stated via its website that roughly 40 tracks were being considered for the record, but no estimated arrival date could be provided.[11] Subsequent announcements and rumors were circulated for the next few years promising release dates and blaming sample clearance for the album's delay; however no new material was released during this time.[12]

It's so fuckin' party you will die, much more hip hop than you might expect...ended up sounding like the next logical step to [Since I Left You], we just had to go around in a big circle to get back to where we belong. and one day when you least expect it you'll wake up and the sample fairy will have left it under your pillow.

Post on the Avalanches' official site, January 2007[11]

Between 2010 and 2012, Ariel Pink, Jennifer Herrema and Danny Brown revealed that they had worked with the Avalanches on new music, the latter mentioning a track named "Frank Sinatra".[13][14][15] In December 2011, the band's Twitter page released lyrics to a new song, "The Stepkids".[12] In 2012, the group released a track entitled "A Cowboy Overflow of the Heart" featuring musician David Berman, reading a poem he composed over music by the group.[16] A year later, the Avalanches also released a remix of Hunters & Collectors' first single "Talking to a Stranger".[17] During this era, they also devoted a large amount of time working on the score to King Kong, a 2013 theater production which took two years to produce.[4] In the end, only a 25-second track by the group was used in the final production.[18] Later, they worked on a psychedelic animation project that was going to be a "hip hop version of Yellow Submarine". It was to be a feature-length animated movie released under the Avalanches' name along with an album. The animation was being produced in a classic cel animation style by an artist in South Korea, drawing influences from 1960s Japanese pop art. It was being funded privately but the money fell through two years into production and the project was never finished.[4][18] The Wildflower track "The Noisy Eater" features remains of the project. Through the projects and collaborations over the years, the group had collected enough music which could be combined into a new album, marking a similar process to how Since I Left You was built.[4]

All former Avalanches members, with the exception of Chater and Di Blasi, had left the group by 2014.[19] Darren Seltmann, one of the co-founders and co-producers on Since I Left You, had left the group around 2006 to focus on raising a family.[20] In regard to the band's second album, Modular stated in February 2014, "Album sounds awesome, but there's no dates or anything planned. The official line is 'stay tuned.'"[19] In June 2014, Jennifer Herrema mentioned Chater had written to her stating "their album was gonna be done in three weeks".[21] The band's official Facebook page was later updated in 2015, listing James Dela Cruz as a member of the band once again.[22]

Production and composition[edit]

Wildflower was produced over the course of 16 years. The track "Saturday Night Inside Out" was originally from a mixtape in 2000 and was the first song Chater made after Since I Left You. Production for the album was not completed until March 2016.[6][3] The Avalanches became more serious about building a second album around 2011–13 and booked studio time to commit themselves to the project.[4] Until about 2014, Chater was using a Power Macintosh G3 beige with System 7 for Studio Vision, a sequencing program that ended support in 1997.[3][7] The group had to max out credit cards to help finance production.[23]

Jonathan Donahue provided vocals on three tracks as well as musical saw instrumentation on two.[6]

The band worked with multiple guest vocalists and musicians, many of which were not included on the album's final cut.[4] In working with vocalists, the Avalanches wanted to create vocals that meshed seamlessly with the music as if they could be samples.[23] Jonathan Donahue of Mercury Rev provided vocals and musical saw instrumentation on multiple tracks. In addition, Kevin Parker of Tame Impala provided additional drumming on "Going Home" and violinist Warren Ellis was featured on "Stepkids".[6] Jean-Michel Bernard also provided some orchestration to a handful of tracks.[8][24] Both Danny Brown's and Biz Markie's vocals on "Frankie Sinatra" and "The Noisey Eater" respectively were done remotely.[3][25] For Brown's vocals on "The Wozard of Iz", he visited Sing Sing Studios in Melbourne and had an all-night recording session with the group.[3] Chater was a fan of MF Doom, specifically the album Madvillainy (2004) he made with Madlib. He sent him a track and received a reply 18 months later from Doom stating he loved the track and wanted to provide vocals.[23] The group was thrilled to work with Camp Lo on the track "Because I'm Me". The Avalanches would always play Camp Lo's first record, Uptown Saturday Night (1997), at shows and even sampled it on Since I Left You.[3] Other guest vocalists on Wildflower include Father John Misty, Toro Y Moi, Jennifer Herrema, Rye Rye, Jonti, David Berman, and A.Dd+.[6][26]

Wildflower is a plunderphonics album;[27] every track on the record is sample-based, similar to Since I Left You.[8] The album has also been described as featuring electronic music,[28] neo-psychedelia,[29] disco,[30] and hip hop[27] throughout. When asked if Wildflower has more than the estimated 3,500 samples on the former record, Chater stated "I’ve got no idea...there’s probably more. It’s so fragmented. Every little footstep and voice and yell and clatter and cowhorn and dog barking, it’s just ridiculous."[23] The group had been clearing samples starting in 2011-12, but would occasionally need to re-negotiate when owners of the source material discovered who the Avalanches were and would request more money.[23][8] The sample clearance was done by Pat Shannahan in Los Angeles, who also cleared the samples for Since I Left You.[8] The track "Subways" features vocals sampled from a 1980 track of the same name sung by then 12-year-old post punk artist Chandra off her EP Transportation. Chandra had not heard of the Avalanches until they approached her in early 2014 for permission to sample the track, but has since become a fan of their work.[31] The most difficult sample to clear was of a choir from Kew High School in Melbourne singing "Come Together" by The Beatles on the track "The Noisy Eater". Initially their request was refused, but Chater and Di Blasi made contact with Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono directly through "friends of friends". They sent them the track along with a letter written by Tony explaining their process and in return were granted approval. The song would have not been added to Wildflower if the sample could not be cleared.[3][8][18][25]

The album was not finished until the night before mastering. Chater had a flight to New York City at 7:30 in the morning.[3] Di Blasi stated, "so we’re in the studio till 6:30 that morning till he literally was like ‘I gotta go man, I gotta hop on the plane.’ We were like, ‘we think it sounds good. Fuck it.’"[4] Many tracks the Avalanches considered for Wildflower did not make it into the album because they did not contribute to its overall style. Collaborators on these songs included Jens Lekman, Connan Mockasin, August Darnell, and Luke Steele.[4][26] Once the style was more defined, they picked from tracks they had worked on which fell in line with others, similar to making a mix tape. The group intends to release these recordings that were closely related to Wildflower "within a year or so" of the album's release. This will help them "clean the slate" for new music to be made.[4]

Styles and themes[edit]

It starts in a kind of hyperrealistic urban environment, then goes on a road trip to the sea or the desert or the countryside, while you’re on acid. So you start in the city and over the course of the record you end up somewhere far away from there, high as a kite.

Robbie Chater in an interview with The Guardian[7]

The Avalanches have described the album as a "road trip" in a "big, wide, expansive country like Australia." For inspiration, the group looked back on their teenage years of driving around the country and suburbia listening to music. The record is supposed to "capture that feeling of growing up...jumping in the car and hitting the road with a six-pack and heading out to the bush."[4] The album attempts to capture the "halfway between happy and sad" feeling similar to old Beach Boys records which are a constant inspiration for the group. Chater felt that this feeling is what made Since I Left You a success, and they have continuously strived to create that feeling. Di Blasi thinks of Wildflower as a free-spirited person who does what they wish regardless of conventionality. The album features many samples from 1960s psychedelic music and relates to the era through counterculture and anti-establishment themes.[8]

Chater has noted that "Sunshine" was included in the album at the last minute but is one of his favorite tracks on Wildflower. "It starts off appearing like it's a very happy, joyous song," says Chater, "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 ever lost love, who's ever been broken-hearted."[6] The lyrics to "If I Was a Folkstar" were written by Toro y Moi about him and his wife taking LSD on the beach shortly after they got married.[6] The title of the album, Wildflower, was chosen for its simplicity. The group was inspired by other albums with simple titles which do not distract from the music, such as Smile by the Beach Boys. The cover art is a direct reference to Sly and the Family Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On (1971) in order to draw from the record's rebellious counter-culture nature, however approaching a more psychedelic style.[4]

Release[edit]

On 12 April 2016, the Avalanches added new images of a gold butterfly on black cloth to their social media accounts and official website.[32] At the time, some speculated this was a sign new music forthcoming.[33] The following day, the group was announced for three festival lineups: Splendour In The Grass, Primavera Sound, and Field Day.[34] On 24 May, the band posted a video poking fun at their long hiatus since their last album and the continuous speculation of a follow-up release.[35][36] On 2 June, the first single from the album, "Frankie Sinatra", was premiered on Australian radio station Triple J.[37] The decision for "Frankie Sinatra" to be the lead single was not made by the group, but rather based on feedback from friends and management.[25] In a radio interview aired immediately after the track's debut, the title of the album was revealed and a release date was provided of 8 July 2016, nearly 16 years after the release of Since I Left You.[38] On 15 June, Zane Lowe’s Beats1 show premiered a second track from the album, "Colours".[39]

On 1 July, Wildflower was made available for streaming through music streaming service Apple Music.[40] Apple Music had negotiated a deal to stream the album exclusively a week before its worldwide release. It was promoted through a heavy advertising campaign in Australia with television, online, and print advertising.[41] Near the album's release, a 15-minute video titled The World of Wildflower/The Was was temporarily posted online. The video, made by Sodajerk, featured a compilation of visuals taken from films and cartoons set to music from the album.[41]

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
SourceRating
Metacritic83/100[42]
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic3.5/5 stars[43]
The A.V. ClubB+[44]
The Guardian4/5 stars[45]
The Independent5/5 stars[46]
Mojo4/5 stars[47]
NME2/5[48]
Pitchfork8.5/10[24]
Q4/5 stars[49]
Rolling Stone3.5/5 stars[50]
Spin8/10[51]

Wildflower received universal acclaim from critics. Prior to the release of the album, radio disc jockey Zane Lowe called Wildflower a "triumph" with "incredible, tasteful collaborations."[4] At Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, it received an average score of 83, based on 33 reviews, indicating critical acclaim.[42] In a rave review, Andy Gill of The Independent hailed the album as "a cause for celebration, its Zappa/Beasties-style collage of voices, samples, beats, sounds, and especially laughter offering a joyous affirmation of life."[46] Jonathan Wroble of Slant Magazine wrote that its "foggy sound [...] reveals its splendor and shape over time".[52] Brad Shoup of Spin noted that while "the terrain is familiar, the subjects have changed," and the album as a whole "feels as though it was made for the Avalanches rather than a patient public."[51] Pitchfork critic Mark Richardson remarked that the group's work "continues to mine a deceptively narrow emotional world—new love, childhood playfulness, wistful sadness, happy feelings of connection—but renders it better than just about any music ever made."[24] The Guardian's Tim Jonze called Wildflower "a joyous journey" and concluded, "It's testament to the power of their original vision that it all still sounds so fresh."[45]

Rolling Stone's Will Hermes called Wildflower "a welcome return" and wrote that "what still sets the Avalanches apart, besides their careful groove pacing, attention to detail, and uncanny ability to move you from inside a track to outside looking in, is their sweet sense of nostalgia."[50] Writing for Exclaim!, Daryl Keating called the album "a real testament to the tenacity of the Avalanches, and one we're truly grateful for."[53] Tim Sendra of AllMusic felt that Wildflower "falls short of expectations, but still ends up being a pretty good album anyway" and considered the abundance of guest performers, with the exception of Jonathan Donahue, to be unnecessary, concluding that the group "ended up making the best psychedelic Chemical Brothers album ever instead of making another classic Avalanches album."[43] Emily MacKay of NME was less favourable, asking how "something that took so long [could] sound so, well, meh," and ultimately called the album "a faded snapshot of a cosier, very distant-seeming past."[48]

Accolades[edit]

Publication Accolade Year Rank Ref.
Paste The 50 Best Albums of 2016 2016
25
Pitchfork The 20 Best Electronic Albums of 2016 N/A
Rough Trade Albums of the Year
77
Popmatters The 70 Best Albums of 2016
15
The New Zealand Herald 20 Best Albums of 2016
11
Q 50 Best Albums of the Year
18
Spin The 50 Best Albums of 2016
36
Mixmag The 50 Best Albums of 2016
4
The Guardian The Best Albums of 2016
15
Loud and Quiet Top 40 Albums of 2016
6
FasterLouder The 50 Best Albums of 2016
21

Track listing[edit]

All tracks produced by Robbie Chater, with additional production by Tony Di Blasi.

No.TitleWriter(s)Sample(s)[a]Length
1."The Leaves Were Falling"
  • Robbie Chater
  • Tony Di Blasi
"The Dream World of Dion McGregor (He Talks in His Sleep)" by Dion McGregor[6] (uncredited)0:15
2."Because I'm Me"
4:12
3."Frankie Sinatra"
3:44
4."Subways"
  • "Subways", written and composed by Chandra Oppenheim, Steven Alexander and Eugene Diserio, and performed by Chandra
  • "Warm Ride", written and composed by Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb and Robin Gibb, and performed by Graham Bonnet
  • "Black Water", written, composed and performed by Patrick Simmons
3:10
5."Going Home"
  • "Subways", written and composed by Chandra Oppenheim, Steven Alexander and Eugene Diserio, and performed by Chandra
  • "Warm Ride", written and composed by Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb and Robin Gibb, and performed by Graham Bonnet
  • "Black Water", written, composed and performed by Patrick Simmons
  • "Party in Me", written and composed by Kathy Kosins, David McMurray and Gene Dunlap, and performed by Gene Dunlap
  • The documentary film Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child
  • The documentary film Streetwise[67] (uncredited)
2:06
6."If I Was a Folkstar"
"You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire" by Queens of the Stone Age[6] (uncredited)4:33
7."Colours"
 3:32
8."Zap!"
  • Chater
  • Di Blasi
 1:58
9."The Noisy Eater"
3:14
10."Wildflower"
Putney Swope1:14
11."Harmony"
  • Chater
  • Di Blasi
3:48
12."Live a Lifetime Love"The film American Juggalo2:30
13."Park Music"
  • Chater
  • Di Blasi
The film American Juggalo0:54
14."Livin' Underwater (Is Somethin' Wild)"
1:56
15."The Wozard of Iz"
"Lost in Your Eyes", written and composed by Tommy James and Mike Vale, and performed by Tommy James and the Shondells2:59
16."Over the Turnstiles""Witchi Tai To" written and composed by James Gilbert Pepper, and performed by Everything Is Everything0:41
17."Sunshine"
3:37
18."Light Up"
1:34
19."Kaleidoscopic Lovers"
  • Chater
  • Di Blasi
  • Donahue
 3:55
20."Stepkids"
"Raise the Bells", written and composed by Lou Barlow, and performed by The Folk Implosion4:32
21."Saturday Night Inside Out"
 5:07
Total length:59:31
Digital edition bonus track
No.TitleLength
22."Frankie Sinatra" (extended mix)4:28

Notes[edit]

  • "Because I'm Me" features vocals by Sonny Cheeba and Geechi Suede of Camp Lo
  • "Frankie Sinatra" features vocals by Danny Brown, Doom and Wilmoth Houdini
  • "Going Home" features additional vocals by Rye Rye
  • "If I Was a Folkstar" features vocals by Chaz Bundick, Jonti Danielwitz, The Avalanches and Dionte "Slim Gravy" Rembert and Arrias "Paris Pershun" Walls of A.Dd+
  • "Colours" features vocals by Jonathan Donahue and The Avalanches
  • "The Noisy Eater" features vocals by Biz Markie
  • "Harmony" features vocals by Jonti Danielwitz, Jonathan Donahue, The Avalanches, Leslie Ritter, Beth Chapin Reineke and Alise Marie
  • "Live a Lifetime Love" features vocals by Slim Gravy and Paris Pershun of A.Dd+, Dominique Young Unique and The Avalanches
  • "The Wozard of Iz" features vocals by Danny Brown and Dominique Young Unique
  • "Kaleidoscopic Lovers" features vocals by Jonathan Donahue and The Avalanches
  • "Stepkids" features vocals by Jennifer Herrema and Kurt Midness
  • "Saturday Night Inside Out" features vocals by David Berman, Josh Tillman and The Avalanches

Personnel[edit]

Credits adapted from the liner notes of Wildflower.[65]