Title: We Will Always Love You

Artist: The Avalanches
Label: Modular
Genre: Psychedelic Pop
Released: 11 December 2020

THE AVALANCHES

WE will always love you

"We'll always love you but
That's not my fault
We'll always love you but
That's not the point
It's all our fault every time you hear me pay
We always loved you"

It’s been 20 years since The Avalanches' debut album, “Since I Left You” was released, creating a huge cultural ripple with its extensive use of plunderphonics, being almost entirely made up from over 900 various samples. It was one of the only albums at the time to have done this to such an extent, rivalled only by DJ Shadow’s “Endtroducing…”. However, “Since I Left You” found a considerably bigger audience than “Endtroducing…”, possibly because of its more light-hearted and pop-oriented approach to the genre. The record blew up worldwide, only for the band to disappear almost completely for the next fifteen years. But after a widely celebrated comeback release in 2016, the group is finally back again with “We Will Always Love You”. And while this release is considerably less effervescent and lively as its predecessors, it’s just as rich in quality, despite its runtime sitting a little too over-long.

Similarly to Matmos’ “The Consuming Flame” back in August, “We Will Always Love You” feels very much like a singular and holistic experience rather than a series of tracks. The singles that were released for the album throughout the year are fairly underwhelming when listened to in isolation, but play a much larger role in establishing tone and mood in the context of the album. In some ways, it’s an opposite approach to the rest of their work. While both “Since I Left You” and “Wildflower” have great pacing and structure, their character emerged from the rich variety of different musical genres and eras that they took aspects from. In comparison, “We Will Always Love You” focuses on a singular, psychedelic adventure spanning multiple phases, but never deviating too far from its central atmosphere. Some may find that to be disappointing, as it’s fairly removed structurally from the group’s previous music. But it makes for an extremely beautiful and spiritual listen that is absolutely worth listening to.

There's a considerably smaller utilization of plunderphonics and sampling here in comparison to the group's first two albums. While those projects focused on repurposing older music that spanned generations in order to create an eclectic and timeless sound, here The Avalanches have used the artform with much more moderation. Like “Wildflower”, “We Will Always Love You” contains a multitude of guest features that help add character to a much more subtle and soft experience. And along with some delicate and beautiful instrumentation from the band themselves, the album becomes the most organic sounding album they've released to date. What it lacks in the musical diversity of its predecessors, it more than makes up with the clear amount of heart that was put into this sprawling psychedelic odyssey. 

The album opens with a mellow, atmospheric, and dreamy first half that begins to expand into some more upbeat tracks during the latter part of its runtime. And while this first section is slightly better in some ways, the second half still manages to uphold the same great sense of flow that makes the album such a psychedelic and colourful adventure. It takes its time in exploring all aspects of the atmosphere that it surrounds, and every song contributes in building upon the kaleidoscopic narrative that it takes us through. The feelings that the music provides are extremely vivid, giving the strange and whimsical sensation of floating slowly down a river as the album seamlessly transitions between different tones and textures. And this is done expertly by the group, who mastered their craft almost immediately with their debut back in 2000, and have since only consolidated their incredible technical and production abilities. Every song on here sounds immaculate, and while some of them may be a little too short to develop to their full potential, the quality of the music never dips.

"Follow the light

Hold it in your hand

Our love belongs among the stars

Expanding from within

See them collide

Feel it all begin

Our souls belong among the stars

Our bodies can't hold it in​"

However, the album does wane slightly because of its length. Although it never becomes tedious, and the music is consistently great almost the whole way through, “We Will Always Love You” sits at a hefty 71 minutes. If the record had rounded off more comfortably below the one-hour mark, I think it may have made a more digestible experience. And this is mostly due to its dedication to sticking with a singular and integrated atmosphere, which is a both a blessing and a curse for the album. I mentioned Matmos’ gargantuan three-hour long “The Consuming Flame” earlier, which for understandable reasons might sound like it would have a similar issue. However “The Consuming Flame” had enough variety in its style to justify its length, and somehow felt as though it was still bursting at the seams with ideas by its 180th minute. “We Will Always Love You” instead feels as though it’s been run dry by the time it reaches its last few songs, and while the music may be consistent in its quality throughout, the bloated runtime makes the whole project feel pretty lopsided.

But as I mentioned, the second half still has some incredible moments, such as the surprising featured verses from Sampa the Great and Denzel Curry in ‘Take Care Of Your Dreaming’, or the extremely catchy inclusion from Rivers Cuomo and Pink Siifu in ‘Running Red Lights. Other inclusions such as ‘Music is the Light’ and ‘Born to Lose’ are decent songs too, but sitting where they are in the track-listing, they don’t pack quite the same punch that they probably would have if the album had been cut-down to a tighter length. However, the real highlight of “We Will Always Love You” really appears within its first thirteen or so tracks, which have an almost perfect balance of consistency in quality, as well as an incredibly flowing structure.

In fact, this first half-an-hour-or-so of the album is so incredibly good that I really believe if viewed alone, they make up possibly the group’s best work. Without diminishing later songs such as ‘Take Care of Your Dreaming’ or ‘Gold Sky’, which are also excellent, I think it’s worth pointing out just how well constructed this 13-track run is, and what an incredible job the band has done in establishing such a vibrant and beautifully flowing collection of songs. The album will transition from the mellow R&B driven title track, into the uplifting, pop-oriented ‘Divine Chord’, and then into the cosmic and dreamy ‘Interstellar Love’ at the drop of a hat, while never feeling as though the direction or flow of the record has shifted. And while these are fairly modest changes in style compared to The Avalanches previous albums, the seamlessness and expertise behind them is still very admirable.

Just like “Since I Left You” and “Wildflower”, this album derives a lot of its entertainment from the fact that it’s just so much fun to listen to. It’s gorgeous, and often quite understated in its use of some samples compared to the group’s previous work. While it could have definitely been trimmed to help it feel a little less thinly spread towards its end, its still a really solid and consistent listen from start to finish which is a worthy contribution to The Avalanches’ discography. Which is good, because we don’t get an album from the group very often. When we do, though, it’s almost guaranteed to be a quality collection of music. And this is no exception. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another sixteen years to hear from these guys again. But if each of their albums, including “We Will Always Love You”, are any indication, it’d still be well worth the wait.

"There's a rumour goin' 'round
They say you're gonna put me down
But that's alright, baby
If you wanna leave me
If you found somebody new" 

Reviewed by Layton Bryce - 30/12/20

8/10
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