Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Avalanches: Since I Left You (2000)



Though a more nebulous entity at times, the Avalanches during the period when they recorded their first (and so far, only) album always primarily consisted of Darren Seltmann and Robbie Chater; the two of them pieced together thousands upon thousands of samples to craft one of the most seamless cut-and-paste jobs in the annals of dance music. Since I Left You is a liberating, timeless delight that renders virtually every other entry in the mashup subgenre, including the famous ones, all but pointless. Its only serious peer is probably Moby's Play, which can boast nothing like its layered detail.

The album is divided into eighteen cuts, some short and some medium-sized, but more than most endless-disco records of its breed, it feels truly like one song with several interludes that build, fade and build again. It doesn't come off simply as a collection of beats and hooks that segue into one another but a more complicated overlay of themes, ideas, musical touchstones surrounding and laid atop one another, with an almost logical wisdom and precision -- there are recognizable songs being created, sure, but more than that what we have is a group of obscure tidbits melded into a larger whole with a specific ebbing, flowing mood. It's a party record -- really it's designed in such a manner that it starts when things are fully heated and eventually wanders out into a sweet, quiet abyss with the last few people left -- but it's also incredibly malleable, suited to an unknowable variety of moods and even dark nights.

Still, what the duo primarily communicate is real joy -- the album, the title cut, the mutation of it in "Stay Another Season" and the finale are all built on a simple concept of absolute, resonant personal freedom: "Since I left you, I've found a world so new." The quote is from a song by the Main Attraction; like most of the album's samples, it was little known prior to its use here. But when the unfettered, carefree weightlessness of that sentiment rings out, it signals an album that is to eventually feel like a vacation away from everything. Welcome to Paradise, indeed; in contrast to so many other records similarly formatted, this isn't merely about beats or prolonging a physical impulse. It's also lilting, nostalgic, sweet -- and a valentine to recorded music itself.

Part of the album's resonance -- and perhaps the reason it has only grown in stature since its release, with the populace awaiting with bated breath a follow-up release that may never happen -- is its use of the unfamiliar and idiosyncratic to create its settings and build to its crescendos. There is the wonderful moment with the muffled bassline of Madonna's "Holiday" bleeding through from somewhere in the distance, which perfectly captures the arm-waving drunken atmosphere of an effortless good time, but for the most part the album's effective because the Avalanches create excitement using acrobatic vinyl manipulation without falling back on cultural familiarity. Instead of being an actual party set, it's a sort of impressionistic variant of one, which hands it a remarkably durable "found art" element. Its freshness stands undiminished. Like any crate-digging DJ worth their salt, they can't resist the two most alluring oddities of the analogue era: easy-listening Beautiful Music and novelty records, both of which they make something of. "Frontier Psychiatrist" is the graveyard for all of the oddball comedy pieces they managed to find, but even it achieves by its parrot-scratching climax a sense of wonder.

The Avalanches may never move onward from this; half of the pair is now long gone in the frustration of endless legal hangups and false starts. A revolving door of other personnel creeps through their twenty-year history. There were remixes and EPs after this, spawning what may be the group's best song ("Everyday"); there were disastrous headlining tours that somehow seemed to invariably culminate in physical injury. But whatever the future may hold, a future that seems maybe permanently out of their reach now, Since I Left You is likely to always remain the most humane and therefore the best of all mashup records. Its fusion of mad genius and fat-and-happy relaxation is utterly irresistible.

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