In a way, it’s not The Avalanches’ fault that they couldn’t live up to 16 years of myth-making. Musical zeitgeist is fleeting and their 2000 debut ‘Since I Left You’ – soul-drenched, old-school hip-hop retro as it was – crested a wave of similarly minded sampladelicists at the turn of the millennium. They encapsulated the sound of an era, and that era passed.
Yet viewed another way: how can something that took so long sound so, well, meh? The answer’s in the craft: turntablism like this demands years of crate-digging, sampling and skill-honing, almost regardless of whether the results are actually any good. Maybe it’s that inherent skill-focused show-offiness that makes the busy, kaleidoscopic patchwork of ‘Wildflower’ ring a little hollow.
Or maybe it’s the relentless-to-the-point-of-inane focus on sunshine and good times. Right from the off, with the summer outdoors sounds sampled on ‘The Leaves Were Falling’, ‘Wildflower’ seems to substitute twee symbols of happiness for the real thing. There are far too many children’s voices, snatches of birdsong, glissandi of saccharine strings, and always the half-heard, half-sensed thwack of Frisbee upon social media manager.
And then there’s ‘Frankie Sinatra’. Oh, ‘Frankie Sinatra’. Its oompah-calypso lurch and brain-glitch hook are not quite as punchable as ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ – the whinny of horses is still annoying 16 years on – but it’s a close thing. Amid the mire, though, is the jewel of Detroit rapper Danny Brown’s guest verse, his wired weirdness adding much-needed depth, energy and shade. Jennifer Herrema of Royal Trux pulls off a similar trick on ‘Stepkids’, bringing a strangeness that makes the sun rays feel more earned, like a mystical tramp whispering visions in your ear over a seasick, shuffling rhythm. A few more moments like that and ‘Wildflower’ might have been an interesting – if very Gorillaz-ish – ride, but as it is, they’re lost amid pleasant but pointless psychedelia by numbers.
To The Avalanches’ many devotees, the alternately wacky and wallpaper nature of these 60 minutes probably won’t matter, and neither will the group’s failure to evolve. Yet for those of us not seduced by absence, fond hearts or nostalgia, ‘Wildflower’ is a faded snapshot of a cosier, very distant-seeming past.