Why Being A Fan Of The Avalanches Was 16 Years Of Torture

We’ve all got favourite artists who seem to muck about in the studio forever, constantly mixing that bass part that no-one will ever really notice. The five-year wait for Radiohead to stop solo projects long enough to make ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’, the decade David Bowie waited before unleashing ‘The Next Day’ in 2013… Not everyone has got the reliable workrate of Beck or Paul Weller.

But, unless you’re Noel Gallagher waiting 26 years and counting for a new album from The La’s, then nothing has matched the frustration of being a fan of The Avalanches for the past 16 years.

Their name has become such a shorthand for laziness for so long that it’s easy to forget their impact when the Australians’ debut album ‘Since I Left You’ arrived in 2000.

Was it psychedelia? Ambient? Hip hop? House? In truth, it was all of these genres and so much more. Formed from hundreds of samples, The Avalanches fashioned one of the most joyful albums you’ll ever hear from their collage of 1940s Hollywood, speeches and surf soundtracks.

For the summer of 2001, the “You’re crazy in the coconut!” sample in their hit ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ was happily inescapable.

And then… silence.

I interviewed Avalanches mainman Robbie Chater in the ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ summer and he warned me: “The next record might take a while.” He emphasised that people underestimated just how long it took to get copyright clearance on all those samples on ‘Since I Left You’.

Like the rest of the world, I strapped in for a wait of as long as, ooh, four years before we heard new Avalanches music again. That I’d interviewed Chater for Teletext, the precursor to the internet that has long since vanished into the ether itself, is a reminder of just how long ago ‘Since I Left You’ came out. Forget Spotify and Tidal: iTunes didn’t exist when ‘Since I Left You’ was released.

I’d occasionally ask The Avalanches’ record company XL if there was any news of a new album. In 2004, they’d still laugh at the slow progress. By 2008, they despaired. By 2010, a decade on from the album, there was no point asking. And there was still another six years after that to wait.

It’s not as if there has been absolutely no sign of new Avalanches music since 2000. Initially, they made some mighty remixes. If you’ve ever want to hear Belle And Sebastian get jumped on by the Roadrunner’s Acme anvil, check out The Avalanches’ overhaul of ‘I’m A Cuckoo’.

Unlike bands like The Stone Roses and Pixies who split up and reformed in the decades between new materials, The Avalanches never ended. They wrote tantalising snippets of new music for a short-lived King Kong musical.

Their Australian record label Modular insisted that a new album would be coming out in 2011. And 2012. And 2013… Around four years ago, The Avalanches’ home page changed to a message that just said ‘Clearing samples’.
Still nothing.

Concrete word of collaborators began to emerge. Royal Trux singer Jennifer Herrera said she’d worked on a great song called ‘Stepkids’. Danny Brown said he’d rapped on two songs, ‘Frankie Sinatra’ and an even better one that would “change the world….if it ever comes out.”

But the one thing nobody could answer was: Why is the album taking so long? Had Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi spent so long collecting songs that they didn’t know what to do with it all? Had they split up and not told anyone?

Throughout the past 16 years, The Avalanches’ message board – as quaint a way of obtaining info as it’s possible to get in 2016 – leapt on any morsels. But, over the 16 years, fewer and fewer people exchanged tinier and tinier scraps of information.

Finally, in April 2016, The Avalanches’ home page changed to a new logo of a multi-coloured butterfly. ‘Frankie Sinatra’ was going to be the comeback single, apparently. The new album would, whisper it, be ACTUALLY COMING OUT in July.

And then… The 21-song ‘Wildflower’ was announced. It is indeed coming out in July. ‘Frankie Sinatra’ got played on Beats 1. It’s one of the most joyful songs you’ll hear all year. The video is just as wild.

In the best way possible, it’s like the last 16 years didn’t happen. The Avalanches are back. They’re still as celebratory as it’s possible for music to achieve. There was no-one like them in 2000. In 2016, there still isn’t.