Harmony track art
Funky Breaks Club/Dance Alternative Dance
In the 15-plus years since they released their masterpiece of sample-based electronica, Since I Left You, the Avalanches have been legendary ghosts kept alive by hopes, rumors, and memories of greatness compounded by a lack of anyone coming along to fill their shoes. With the release of 2016's Wildflower, the group stages a comeback that sadly falls short of expectations, but still ends up being a pretty good album anyway. In fact, if it hadn't been made by the Avalanches, it may even be a great album. The record is filled with their trademarks: heavy doses of summer sun so bright they seem to glisten more than shine, beats that seem to be constructed from bubblegum and rubber bands, samples that are witty and fit together like puzzle pieces. Kicking off with a track that sounds like part two of "Since I Left You," "Because I'm Me" seems headed for the same patch of nirvana when it is suddenly derailed by some rapping from Camp Lo that grounds the heavenly sounds in some real-life grit. Not only is the rapping here a distraction, it's the first of many guest appearances that serve to spoil what made Since I Left You so special. It had a timeless, immaculately constructed sound that was insular in the best way, made by a band of like-minded record geeks merrily toiling away over samplers and vinyl to create something brilliant. All the guest appearances on Wildflower not only wreck that feeling, but they are unnecessary. The Avalanches are masters at creating new melodies out of old records, fresh feelings out of lost snippets of sound; now they are kind of cheating by bringing in a bunch of people to do the heavy lifting for them -- and it's kind of like cheating when they don't have to. Not only do the many rappers (Danny Brown, MF Doom, Biz Markie, and others) sound out of place, the plethora of indie rockers (like Toro y Moi, Father John Misty, and Jennifer Herrema) do too. They all seem slapped on after the songs were already done, adding very little to the sounds already there. Only the two tracks featuring Mercury Rev's Jonathan Donahue ("Colours," "Kaleidoscope Lovers") work well since they sound like true collaborations. Skipping the songs with guest appearances leaves behind an album that sounds like fragments of a worthy follow-up in many ways, with smile-inducing tracks like "Subways," which borrows huge chunks of Chandra's song of the same name, soundtracks for daydreams ("Sunshine"), and short sampledelic bits that end too quickly. It's a shame the group didn't expand on these self-contained songs more, leave off the pasted-in vocals that clutter things up and detract from the magic in the grooves, and build them into something more like Since I Left You. By focusing on outsiders instead of trusting their crate-digging genius, the Avalanches shortchanged themselves and ended up making the best psychedelic Chemical Brothers album ever instead of making another classic Avalanches album. ~ Tim Sendra