The present musical landscape may be unrecognisable from the one into which the Avalanches released their debut album 16 years ago but, with Wildflower, at least one pop trope seems to have endured: all hail, then, the follow-up to Since I Left You, the difficult second album to end all difficult second albums. And what specific difficulties the Avalanches face: how to recreate the technicolour joy of an adored predecessor; where to dig for overlooked, underheard chunks of musical detritus obscure but resilient enough to form another psychedelic patchwork; and, perhaps most crucially, how not to repeat yourselves – after a 16-year wait, a simple Since I Left You Two would feel somewhat callow.
Thankfully, Wildflower is the sound of those difficulties overcome, although perhaps not how one would have necessarily expected. The technique of intertwined samples returns, as does the woozy mix-tape aesthetic that dips in and out of a huge party, and the band have maintained their knack for recycling apparent musical garbage into a magical gestalt. However, despite Wildflower being unmistakably the work of the Avalanches from top to bottom, the introduction of guest vocalists from the outset separates it from the purist, found-sound approach of their debut straight away. Indeed, with three guest rappers on the first two songs alone, there’s a brief worry that visiting voices will render what’s beneath merely as backing track.
That worry is not borne out though: through a combination of humour, bizarro sampling and the sort of alchemical sound-surgery that stitches old clips of trilling flutes to film excerpts and backwards orchestras, Wildflower is every bit as narcotically mind-expanding as Since I Left You, and even more audaciously maverick: when a children’s choir singing the Beatles’ Come Together briefly appears from the cartoon dustcloud of Noisy Eater, or tinkling piano drizzles over The Wozard of Iz, it becomes obvious these are not attention-seeking turntablist stunts, but simply imaginations that experience the world fundamentally differently being left to run wild.
Indeed, there’s a moment towards the end of the album’s final section where the lead sample from Since I Left You feels as if it’s bubbling under, ready to surface for four bars before diving back into the broth, as if to trademark the past hour as an unequivocal visit to Avalanchesville. In the end, the sample never materialises, but the hint is enough: records as meticulously kaleidoscopic as this, it says, are the domain of no one else.
But Wildflower has another dimension that cuts across that attendant glee. If the defining sample on the Avalanches first record was “get a drink, have a good time now, welcome to paradise”, Wildflower’s is of a girl sighing, distractedly, “it’s just like I have other stuff on my mind these days”: while much of this record is the sound of a brain-fizzing endorphin rush, an underlying poignancy colours the ecstasy, particularly in the second half. Like the stories of Brian Wilson’s psychological battles accompanying the writing of his most sun-drenched masterpieces, it’s difficult to ignore the sense that Wildflower’s rapture comes with a darker side, not least on the melancholy 15-minute run from Over The Turnstiles to Light Up, which revel in echo-laden children’s songs and underwater drowning effects as the party rumbles on outside.
It leaves Wildflower as less carefree than its older brother, and perhaps not as superficially loveable, but far more intriguing, and one of the most tender, peerless and genuinely strange albums of recent times. With that enchanting inscrutability, in fact, Wildflower feels almost like the Avalanches incarnate: curiously stoic, utterly unique, and the purveyor a weirdly dazzling trip.