The Avalanches – ‘We Will Always Love You’ review: frontier psychiatrists get back in the saddle

The production duo narrow the gap between releases on their third album in two decades. The meditative tone suggests they'll continue to go the distance

The old adage that ‘good things come to those who wait’ is, in general, curiously untrue when applied to album delays (see: Guns N’ Roses’ often-derided ‘Chinese Democracy’). Yet sampling heavyweights The Avalanches followed their era-defining debut, 2000’s ‘Since I Left You’, with the  genre-shuffling ‘Wildflower’ – which arrived a full 16 years after its predecessor.

Yet, incredibly, ‘Wildflower’ lived up to the weight of heavy expectation, further proving that the exalted Melbourne duo’s first record was no mere fluke. Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi’s status as top-tier musical collagists was solidified thanks to some of the last decade’s most infectious, life-affirming tracks (we’re looking at you, ‘Frankie Sinatra’ and ‘Subways’). With album three completed in a mere quarter of that time, the group’s near-mythic reputation is further illuminated with a renowned cast of cameo vocalists and instrumentalists including Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, Blood Orange, Johnny Marr, Leon Bridges, Tricky, Karen O and Jamie xx.

The making of ‘We Will Always Love You’ was guided by Chater’s interest in a story about legendary astronomer Carl Sagan and NASA Creative Director Ann Druyan. Back in 1977, they were responsible for assembling two music and audio-filled phonograph records, containing a range of sounds and images, which demonstrated the abundance of music and culture on Earth. These discs would be boldly blasted out into the stars aboard NASA’s Voyager space probes. This expedition continues on, ever deeper into the cosmos, perhaps one day representing humanity’s eternal sonic epitaph.

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Chater and Di Blasi forwent their traditional hardware samplers and set to work on making new music in a much faster fashion, while still plundering samples from a vast range of sources. After four years of work, this new album feels of akin to its predecessors, though the sample-weaving here is far more seamless. Vocals are placed front and centre across the record’s considerable run time (25 tracks and 71-and-half minutes, no less)

There’s a touch of melancholy to the opening track ‘Ghost Story’, as as an emotive answerphone message conveys the pain of a long-distance relationship, before dissolving into a prism of processed vocals. After barely a minute, the record shifts into the shimmering chordal washes and warm vinyl crackle of ‘Song for Barbara Payton’. These brief, atmospheric mood-setters give way to the Blood Orange-starring title track, originally released as a lead single way back in February of this year – and, therefore, into a wholly different world.

“Draped in monotony / What’s my life gotten me?” Hynes asks, his semi-spoken rap counterpointing a lush, angelic sounding chorus. Coming as it does so early in the album’s sequencing, the title track serves as something of a musical starting block, and a farewell of sorts – before revving up, up and away into the technicolor dreamscape of ‘The Divine Chord’. Johnny Marr’s radiantly simple guest strum is the bedrock, soon smothered with a playful, upbeat rhythm section, while MGMT’s Andrew Vanwyngarden provides some scintillating vocal work.

As with the previous entries in The Avalanches’ canon, shorter bridging tracks help to forge a cohesive listening experience, stripping and distorting track elements from one song into another. Such is the case with ‘Solitary Ceremonies’ and ‘Ghost Story’ Pt 2, which sandwich pulsing album stand-out ‘Interstellar Love’; the latter adeptly incorporates an Alan Parsons Project sample with Leon Bridges’ fresh R&B vocal. “Our love belongs among the stars” he sings, taking inspiration from the Sagan/Druyan story.

The record’s galaxy-spanning journey continues through the lo-fi ‘Reflecting Light’, a twinkly slice of psychedelia. The tracks leans so heavily on a sample from underrated folkster Vashti Bunyan’s 1970 song ‘Glow Worms’ that she receives an appearance credit. Elsewhere, we take in stellar guest appearances from Perry Farrell and Kurt Vile on ‘Oh The Sunn!’ And ‘Gold Sky’ respectively.

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The one-two punch of ‘Wherever You Go’ and ‘Music Makes Me High’ cements another central theme of the record – that of the restorative, connective power of music. Jamie xx’s beat work on the former impressively oscillates the rhythmic structure of the track to near-breaking point, while the straightforward, funktastic groove of ‘Music Makes Me High’ feels squarely aimed at filling dance-floors.

It would be a miracle if there weren’t missteps on a record as sonically diverse as this. The twisted lead riff of ‘Born to Lose’ is an ear-mangling turn-off, coming as it does after the neon cool of the Rivers Cuomo-guesting ‘Running Red Lights’. There’s little to be said, too, for the Morse-code-like bleeping of album closer ‘Weightless’.

These jarring moments aside, though, the diversity of guest musicians, expertly woven music and compositional strength of the tracks on offer here add up to a journey well worth taking. ‘We Will Always Love You’ completes The Avalanches’ 20-year triptych on a hopeful note.

Details

Release date: December 11

Record label: Universal

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