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Archive 2
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Landslide victory to Australian dance music

The Avalanches - Since I Left You album review (released April 17th)
Jim Johnson

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.

For 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 Shadow’s Entroducing in 1996 has this type of album caused a stir. Probably because it’s hard to produce something that whilst largely being made up of other people’s 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 you’ll recognise. It is their first and, as yet, only UK single, which charted at Number 16. If it wasn’t for its telltale modern production this song with its easy-listening strings and flutes could be part of a soundtrack for a 50’s 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 reference points.

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 ship’s 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 they’re just pissing about.

What makes this record so good apart from its originality is its depth. It’s the kind of album where every listen will reveal something that you hadn’t noticed before. Some tracks are so crammed full with madcap samples that you don’t really quite understand how it all works. Live at Dominoes for example, shouldn’t be a catchy dance track, its just too full of mashed up bits of tunes to make any sense, but somehow it’s brilliant.

But don’t 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 you’re into anything on Ninja Tune or Mo’Wax then you’ll more than likely enjoy this record. If you’ve 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 2001

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