Album Review: The Avalanches – We Will Always Love You

[Modular Recordings; 2020]

After The Avalanches‘ world-beating 2000 debut album Since I Left You, it took 16 years for us to get the follow-up, Wildflower. Sixteen. While Kevin Shields says ‘hold my beer’ to that length of time, fans clamoring for new material from Aussie DJs had all but given up hope. Almost two decades after their landmark debut, with several teases in between, Wildflower’s anticipation spread like wildfire, and – thank Christ – it didn’t suck.

Whereas their initial outing relied heavily on samples over guest spots, Wildflower poured piping hot collaboration sauce all over the mountain of sample potatoes. It was robust and flavorful, with tons of buzzy and cult artists like MF DOOM, Danny Brown, Toro Y Moi, and Kevin Parker of Tame Impala (just to name a few). This trend continues with their latest, We Will Always Love You, which, surprisingly, only had a four-year gestation period.

At a daunting 71 minutes and featuring a staggering 30+ collaborators (including those sampled), We Will Always Love You is undoubtedly a labor of love, if not a bit overstuffed at times. The tremendous orgy of collaborators and credits doesn’t suck either, ranging from rock icons like Perry Farrell and Alan Parsons, to today’s hottest mainstreamers like Leon Bridges and Rivers Cuomo. There’re also experimental rappers (Pink Siifu), breakthrough rappers (Denzel Curry), and old school trip-hoppers (Tricky). Indie rock gets heavy representation too – Kurt Vile, Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and a brief reference of the late David Berman’s Purple Mountains. This isn’t even the tip of the iceberg – MGMT, Johnny Marr, Blood Orange, Jamie xx, Neneh Cherry, Sampa the Great, Smokey Robinson, and Orono Noguchi of Superorganism all show up – some with more of a presence than others.

Some of this talent is put to good use. “The Divine Chord” is very clearly an MGMT song, carrying all the hallmarks of their electro-tomfoolery in extravagant doses. The Alan Parsons Project’s “Eye in the Sky” is combined with a mellow Leon Bridges feature for “Interstellar Love”, and supports it surprisingly well. The title track intersperses a sample of Smokey Robinson and The Miracles’ “I’ll Take You Anywhere That You Come” with a feature from Dev Hynes, who elevates it with his transcendent voice: “Draped in monotony / What’s my life gotten me? / Hard to be glorious when two minds meet in the corner.”

Stealing the show are Denzel Curry and Sampa the Great on “Take Care In Your Dreaming”. It doesn’t feel like a re-tread of Wildflower highlights “Because I’m Me” or “Frankie Sinatra”, but it does offer some of the meatiest parts of We Will Always Love You just as those did for the previous record.

The Kurt Vile collaboration “Gold Sky” is the unexpected Twizzler of substances that we never knew we needed till now, as the slacker’s morose mumbling locks into place nicely, even if the Flaming Lips sample gets a bit muddled towards the end. Of the other rockers present, Perry Farrel’s disco-tinged “Oh the Sunn!” features some of the funkiest hip-shaking grooves associated with his namesake, even if his contribution is minimal. Meanwhile, the inclusion of Rivers Cuomo singing on “Running Red Lights” at first seems absurd, but it’s better than anything Weezer’s done in four or five years. Pink Siifu’s verse in the same song rewrites a portion of Purple Mountains’ “Darkness & Cold” with a less-depressing message “I sleep three feet above the street / In a pink champagne Corvette” as opposed to the original’s “In a Band-Aid pink Chevette.” It’s a nice nod to one of music’s most gifted but troubled poets.

The frustrating “Wherever You Go” is the longest of the 25 tracks, and crams the wonderful Neneh Cherry into a box with Jamie xx, CLYPSO, and several samples, but it doesn’t truly open up until the end, where we’re gifted the only real verse; “They got the power, pay by the hour / Make the folks cower, they can devour / Hit you with the bass, right in the place / Smack in the face that you can embrace.” Wasting Cherry like this is one of many miscalculations on We Will Always Love You, but it doesn’t tank the record entirely.

There’re some head-scratchers for sure though, with a handful of these collaborations resulting in nothing more than a few seconds of unnecessary negative space. The voicemails for both “Ghost Story” tracks relegate the gifted Orono to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo, hardly enough for an artist whose follow-up is highly anticipated. Meanwhile Karen O’s “Dial D for Devotion” feels like an afterthought, one that seems placed specifically for credentials than actual content.

Despite their best efforts, and their desire to provide their fans with ample music, We Will Always Love You is a tad bloated. With more people stuffed in the studio than an Arcade Fire family reunion, the album boasts an impressive cast, but when a lot of them are wasted in the final product, it starts to feel like the names are more important than the music. It’s an electronic album from DJs who love to sample the music that inspires them, and in the past they’ve successfully done, furnishing us with some of the most golden-crisped memories. With some trimming, We Will Always Love You might have been a victory lap, but instead it feels like The Avalanches would have been better off taking another decade to fine-tune it.