Australian pop music
has never exactly been the epitome of cool. Those of us who are old
enough will never forget the Neighbours Years (when virtually
every cast member from that particular soap released at least one single).
Understandably this left us wary of later Aussie imports. Then just
as Kylie was beginning to build up some credibility, along came Savage
Garden with their Roxette-influenced soft rock to drag Australian pop
music back down to the avoid-at-all-costs level.
some of us in Britain this left us feeling quite smug. Sure they
can clean up at the Olympics and stuff us at cricket but just listen
to their pop music...ha! But like the French, who once gave us every
reason to laugh at their musical efforts, they have suddenly started
producing some of the most talked about and innovative records around.
Perhaps this is partly due to their geography, being less exposed
to British and American dance music means they are more likely to
buck trends and create something refreshingly new.
The Avalanches are
Robert Chater, Darren Seltmann, Tony DiBlasi, Gordon McQuilten, Dexter
Fabay and James De La Cruze. They are based in Melbourne and their rise
to fame has been gradual. Back in 1997 they released two singles in
their home country, which attracted the attention of Triple J - the
Australian equivalent of Radio 1 - and the hype started building. Both
of these singles feature on Since I Left You, their debut album,
which has taken two years to complete. This was not because of creative
problems within the band, but due to the complicated and time-consuming
process of tracking down the various artists that they had sampled and
obtaining permission to use their work. The Avalanches are a cut and
paste sort of band. They must have spent years scouring record shops
for old and rare vinyl, spotting the good bits and lifting them out.
Not since DJ Shadows Entroducing in 1996 has this type
of album caused a stir. Probably because its hard to produce something
that whilst largely being made up of other peoples material is
still able to sound original and different. But this is where The Avalanches,
like DJ Shadow, have succeeded. By not allowing the samples to dictate
the music, but using them to go somewhere else.
The opening and
title track, Since I Left You is the one youll recognise.
It is their first and, as yet, only UK single, which charted at Number
16. If it wasnt for its telltale modern production this song with
its easy-listening strings and flutes could be part of a soundtrack
for a 50s film. And for all I know, that could be exactly where
this particular sample is taken from.
Their album displays
an incredibly wide-ranging repertoire, going from the blissed-out Air
like Two hearts in 3/4 time to the excellent Frontier Psychiatrist
with its radio friendly, lazy hip-hop beats. They go from calming orchestral
strings in Little Journey and piano bar jazz in Tonight,
to manic, filtered house Daft Punk style supplied by A Different
Feeling and Electricity. While The Avalanches might stray
into the territory of familiar bands you never feel that they are merely
imitators. Each track sounds uniquely their own, but their eclectic
tastes means that the range of music on the album reminds us of several
From the album cover
we see that they have a bit of a thing about the sea. Listening to the
album and it seems more like an obsession - there are seagulls, splashes
and ships horns throughout. Electricity even contains a
haunting vocal introduction reminiscent of the ending theme tune to
Stingray. Perhaps this is all done to suggest that we are being taken
on a musical voyage of discovery? Or maybe theyre just pissing
What makes this
record so good apart from its originality is its depth. Its the
kind of album where every listen will reveal something that you hadnt
noticed before. Some tracks are so crammed full with madcap samples
that you dont really quite understand how it all works. Live
at Dominoes for example, shouldnt be a catchy dance track,
its just too full of mashed up bits of tunes to make any sense, but
somehow its brilliant.
But dont take
my word for it, perhaps the recommendation of others would count for
more. The Manic Street Preachers have sought their talents to remix
Why So Sad. Badly Drawn Boy got them to remix The Shining
on the Once Around the Block single. Still not convinced? Well
how about this, Madonna was so impressed by the Avalanches that she
has let them use the baseline of Holiday on the album. This is
the first and only time that she has allowed anyone to sample her work.
If youre into
anything on Ninja Tune or MoWax then youll more than likely
enjoy this record. If youve never even heard of either of those
distinctive record labels then this album could be the perfect introduction
to this funky, dancey, hip-hop world.
© Jim Johnson