In my estimation ‘Since I Left You’ by The Avalanches is quite possibly one of the most important albums in the genre of dance music to emerge in the last few years.
Arranged, produced and recorded by Bobby and Darren Seltman what you have here is an innovative trawl through popular music’s back catalogue. Literally taking apart a cast of thousands and rebuilding and rehashing them through the “cut and paste” style that has in recent times become dangerously close to sounding stale.
It is this use of samples in their new context which can be funny, poignant and sometimes downright outrageous. Give the band a slab of the cheesiest disco and they’ll work their magic to make it sound fresh and cool on the dancefloor.
Take the first single from the album ‘Since I Left You’, kicking in with background sounds which give the listener a feel they are walking into best party they are ever likely to experience. The Avalanches are setting the mood effortlessly with warm emotive strings and a decidedly retro disco feel. All the elements for a hit are included without being too blatantly obvious. Yet at the same time the upbeat feel is tinged with a hint of sadness. I can’t remember the last time I said that about a piece of dance music.
The track blends in seamlessly (as pretty much most of the album does) into ‘Stay Another Season’ and the pace is lifted just enough to draw in a little more of the dance crowd. The bassline is cheekily lifted from Madonna’s ‘Holiday’ and that in itself is enough to get you interested. However rather than milking this rather obvious reference the band tease you before heading off into pastures new. There are some nice little soundscapes and pastiche that give this track a somewhat gentle urban feel.
By now you’re on the dancefloor and as third track ‘Radio’ slides in the beats get heavier, the samples become less obvious yet the attention to detail in this recording becomes more and more evident. The Avalanches use vocal snippets to great effect turning innocent phrases into melodies and continuing their trend of building something brand new out of something old.
‘Two Hears in 3/4 Time’ is the first of the album’s excursion into gentler territory, almost like the band are keen not to use up their dance arsenal all at
once. This time the listener is being gently lulled into a slightly more jazzy area.
Once again the vocal snapshots are there but this time they are easy on the listener, I’ve never seen the Avalanches do a live set but if this is anything to go by they quite clearly know how to work a crowd. Timing and pacing the mood of an audience isn’t the easiest skill but these guys have got a fairly good grasp of the dynamics involved.
Just as you are stepping through the gentle territory of ‘Two Hearts’ you find yourself being led out the other side into somewhat drier and harder territory. This is the first of mini tracks on the album, a twenty three second exercise in stepping things up a gear. ‘Avalanche Rock’ proves to be the bridge that leads you further into the album and even more adventurous scenarios.
‘Flight Tonight’ is up next once again the listener is handed heavyweight beats and breaks with an insistent bassline that in the right circumstances would be too infectious to resist in terms of being dancefloor friendly. The samples become so frenzied that even after repeated listens you would still find yourself getting something new from this track (and most of the others for that matter). Blink and you’ll miss something that sounds familiar, this track weaves in and out a hip hop vein throughout while mixing in some really bizarre bleeps and whistles which work almost like a secondary percussion track.
Before you know it you’re moved into the decidedly funky ‘Close To You’. This time we’re back in the disco room. Looped flutes, vocodered voices and some lovely shuffled beats, you’re being lulled into that false sense of security again because before you know it the track morphs into a ‘hands in the air, jump up and down’ style anthem. It’s wonderful stuff, building slowly into a crescendo which sees a sampled appearance from none other than Kid Creole & The Coconuts, he was cheesy and considered naff back in the eighties, but for now he’s the coolest man on the dancefloor.
‘Diners Only’ continues the storming nature of the previous track but prevents the band from peaking too early. It’s another short bridge into another style of music, still dance and still funky but it’s there to make the transition of sound on the album smooth and painless.
‘A Different Feeling’ brings some nice brass snippets to the fore as well as giving the listener/clubber a real ‘party’ feel. The track spirals into ethereal territory very slowly and on first listen it happens almost without you realising it. The beats fade into the background and the foreground is laid open for some more sumptuous string loops. If the band had wanted to milk the album for singles then this would have been a cracking choice. Once again they take a dance track and make it strangely sad in it’s emotional execution.
‘Electricity’ walks in almost like something out a film score with operatic vocal samples intermingled with some nice electronic sounds. However before the party comes grinding to a halt they kick in another weighty bass line (which sounds like something by The Stranglers) along with some decidedly eighties sounding synths and beats. More funky ‘stomp along’ stuff yet still with that now trademark gentility about it.
‘Tonight’ is the next track which gives you a break from the dancefloor and guides you by the hand into a smoky jazz club somewhere in another dimension. The atmosphere is all there with a real air of authenticity. However The Avalanches add their own little twist to proceedings by skewing the piano loops just a little and just keeping the back burner going with a little bit of a high hat sound going on, nothing too straining.
‘Pablo’s Cruise’ is another little filler track although entertaining all the same, mixing spoken word with a decidedly film esque backdrop, think of some kind of James Bond incidental music put through a blender before being mixed with a touch of Star Trek.
It all serves well as a springboard for the album’s second single ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’. This is astounding, kicking in with some real madcap vocal loops along with some really adept mixing and scratching. Once again you are back in the big beat style hip hop room. It’s a great track and by far one of the album’s most amusing and endearing moments. It shouldn’t work but it does…effortlessly. It also proves The Avalanches don’t take themselves too seriously.
‘Etoh’ comes next and draws from once again from a gentler pool of sounds, this time more reliant on woodblock style percussion and some some mildly trippy female vocals. It’s like moving off the dancefloor and out on the balcony for a little break from the energy. Sure you can still hear everything going on behind you but this is a nice excuse to recharge your batteries with something a little more natural and relaxing.
The pace slows even more for the next track ‘Summer Crane’, this is a perfect come down track for the morning after the night before. It works nicely on it’s own or as part of this storming set. Some really nice soundscapes, some suitably obscure samples and a killer guitar loop stuck in for good measure.
‘Little Journey’ is the last bridge track before the album’s ‘last big push’ into harder territory. Almost commanding you to take a deep breath because any minute now you are getting back on the dancefloor if you have to be dragged there by the scruff of your neck. Madonna’s ‘Holiday’ bassline drifts back in as easily as it left us all those tracks ago almost as the signal to get down and party. Get off the balcony and get back to the dancefloor, you have no choice in the matter.
‘Live At Dominoes’ is probably my favourite track, built from the wreckage of a Boney M track no less (Daddy Cool) and if this was playing in a club and you didn’t dance to it then you should be in a mortuary (just my opinion you understand). It’s quiet simply one of the most infectious cuts on the album with a real uplifting party atmosphere trampled into it. Boney M sound clash with a marvellously appropriate filtered vocal track and just when you think this track is going to let you go it comes back with another hit and drags you back for more.
Sadly all things have to come to an end and ‘Extra Kings’ is the playout gambit on this collection. A pastiche of myriad synth sounds and James Bond, gentle enough to bring the hardened dancer back down to Earth before he or she has to go home (there is nothing like a set that ends without bringing the crowd onto gentler ground after all) and this is the track that does it and so we must wave a sad goodbye to the world of The Avalanches…until next time.
In many ways I might take a guarded consideration of placing this album in my all time list of albums to be stranded on a desert island with (providing I had a CD player and a power source as well of course). It really comes across as a labour of love with the band prepared to cut and slice all the stuff that people really want to hear on the dancefloor. ‘Since I Left You’ never takes itself too seriously and is unafraid to go out on a limb and use something that many would deem uncool.
There are elements here of music that people like but won’t admit which makes a refreshing change from so many acts that beat you into liking the latest and coolest thing.
The production values on this album are also incredible, the work that has gone into these tracks must have been no small undertaking, such is the attention to detail which makes this album such a great listening experience.
It’s all a first rate experience at home or in a club, if you like dance music (and even if you aren’t sure) then this could, no let me rephrase that it is one of the prime purchases you make this year.