The Album List: # 192 The Avalanches “Since I Left You”

Michael row the boat ashore. Alleluia.

The idea that electronic music is a recent invention of celebrity DJs or as an off-shoot of hip hop is false. Electronic music pre-dates the second world war, and thrived in post-war Europe, where artists like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Schaeffer created the blueprint of modern avant-garde music.  It’s no accident countries like France, Germany, and the Netherlands are where electronic dance music thrives to this day.

This is not to say other countries have not produced fantastic electronic music. The Avalanches are from Australia, a country better known for new wave pop acts and post punk political diatribes set to hard edge rock music.  The lack of musical understanding leads one to believe the Avalanches are an anomaly, but if you look at an artist like  Cut Copy , you know that the scene in Australia is compelling and influential in the best possible way. The Avalanches have only released one proper album ( the EPs, mixtapes, and singles discography are quite extensive). That album is the exquisite example of plunderphonics and modern dance ambience. Along with Air and Daft Punk, the Avalanches created the blueprint for samples in dance music for the new millennia.

Part of the delight of Since I Left You is deciphering the samples, which come from unusual places. I have garnered samples from Francoise Hardy, the Osmonds, Jimmy Webb, schlockmasters Alan and Marilyn Bergman, the Isley Brothers, Johnny Mercer, Enoch Light Singers,  Wayne and Shuster (the Canadian me would have been run out of the country if I didn’t know that one), part of Maurice Jarre’s theme from the overrated Lawrence of Arabia (side note- Peter O’Toole’s blue eyes do not make up for eons of dull deserts and indulging T.E. Lawrence’s racism). There is opera, hip hop, pop, lounge all fed through the samples, creating a cohesive but always refreshing continuous sound scape.

The album isn’t focused around voices. There are vocals- the album is littered with vocal samples. But Darren Seltmann and Robbie Chater, the masterminds behind the Avalanches, are not about teaming up with multiple pop stars to score popular singles (ahem…  David Guetta…). There is a joy and an ease to the music they create, a sense of nostalgia mixed with propulsion forward. It’s all about the music, completely and wholly. There is no ambivalence, no sorrow, no despair. It’s not a full-out party album, nor is it a must dance to album. There is no Kraftwerkesque efficiency or coldness. It’s messy in its cohesiveness. They seem to love a piano and a smoky jazz voice. It’s like someone took the last gasping breath of 60s lounge music and made it cool (digression I love this era and genre of music. Herb Alpert is a genius.)

There is little in this world that brings me joy like a great record that attempts to be sonic joy. The Avalanches did this beautifully on this album, a song cycle of pure sound, found and meticulously crafted into something unique and beautiful. Rare are albums that make me feel anything new. I don’t feel happiness often. Listening to the album is one of the rare times I feel it.

The Avalanches have been finishing an album for the past eight years. I hope it comes along shortly, because I could use some more happy in my life.


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