surface of it, the prospect of a six-piece Australian DJ collective spinning
tunes sampling The Osmonds, Boney M and Madonna doesn’t sound like the kind of
thing that an influential, taste-making classic is made from. However, the
musical reality of Since I Left You, released quietly in late 2000 by The
Avalanches, was to present the listener with a sonic patchwork that sounded
like the greatest mixtape on Earth, featuring familiar strains of every single
kind of music imaginable but which resembled something new and revelatory. Not
only that, it’s been a touchstone of electronic music in the two decades since,
with countless musicians taking inspiration from its dazzling, kaleidoscopic
vision and innovative approach to sampling.
that became The Avalanches gradually took shape through the mid-to-late
Nineties in Melbourne, forming out of a noise-punk threesome named Alarm 115
consisting of future core members Robbie Chater, Tony Di Blasi (both keyboards)
and Darren Seltmann (vocals). Part of their evolving aesthetic was the use of
second-hand records, and these became the basis for the group’s future
direction after percussionist Manabu Etoh was deported from the country, thus
precluding Alarm 115. Gradually adding another keyboardist in Gordon McQuilten,
competition-winning DJ Dexter Fabay and turntablist James Dela Cruz over the
years, their 1997 EP El
Producto caught the attention of national indie Modular Recordings.
From mid-1998 onwards, the six began the diligent, methodical but inspired work
on what would become Since I Left You, selecting, assembling and mixing
what was at the time rumoured to be around 3,500 samples (more likely to be
around 900, but still!).
second half of 2000, word was beginning to get out about The Avalanches, but
all they had to their name by that point was three highly limited edition EPs,
a small handful of live appearances supporting other artists and a remix for Badly Drawn Boy.
To combat piracy and generate publicity, Chater made public a short mixtape
previewing some of the new tracks in brief alongside live favourites before Since
I Left You was released in Australia in November 2000.
American and European publics at large didn’t get to hear Since I Left You until
mid-2001, and then in slightly altered form as a result of delays in order to
obtain permissions for samples, and to record replacements if they were
refused. Chater and Seltmann had begun work on the project with the mindset
that “no-one’s going to listen to it anyway”, not planning for any kind of
conventional release let alone a wide international one. Therefore, they didn’t
keep track of what they had sampled as they proceeded, meaning the whole morass
had to be painstakingly unpicked in order to gain legal clearance.
however, was worth it. Entering the UK Top Ten in its first week on sale in
April 2001, Since I Left You moved nearly a quarter of a million copies
in just a few months, and was lavished with praise from professional music
critics and casual music fans alike. For good reason, too. The Avalanches
presented us with arguably the final word in sample culture, filtering
disparate genres from soul, disco, Daisy Age hip-hop and jazz to all manner of
pop culture detritus, from mainstream Eighties pop, film soundtracks to
resolutely unfashionable novelty pop, lounge music and ‘50s ballads from the
likes of Debbie Reynolds. This incredibly detailed, constantly shifting pattern
was set to a backdrop of the hiss and crackle of vinyl and the breezy sounds of
flutes, providing a constant thread tying the 18 tracks together.
to the kind of big beat dance music that had been dominating the Nineties, The
Avalanches wanted to present a different kind of vision for the genre, one more
reminiscent of classic Sixties sunshine pop like Phil Spector and The Beach
Boys rather than the hard beats and loud bass of house music. In this
endeavour, they were astonishingly successful. The heart-bursting joy of the
opener and lead single ‘Since
I Left You’ is the perfect Avalanches mission statement. An unknown man
tells you “welcome to paradise”, before sighing trills of woodwind and
strings and gauzy, ecstatic vocals bear the track up. ‘Since I Left You’ could
have seemed ironic, detached and glib in less-skilled hands, but with The
Avalanches, it’s as pure an expression of loveliness in music as you’re ever
likely to hear.
stroke, that track also destroys the lazily followed concept that sample-based
dance records necessarily require booming, dancefloor beats. Since I Left
You integrates its samples in an immersive, textured sound-bed, as opposed
to simply slapping them on top of a beat. In doing so, it fulfills the original
promise of the very art form of sampling itself, of wringing glorious new
sounds through the repurposing and arranging of old ones. The presence of damn
near a thousand different samples – some of them prominent and serving as the
main arteries of tracks, many others heard in mere snatches and seconds –
suggests The Avalanches were engaging in some kind of riotous blowout, but Since
I Left You is in fact an extremely disciplined exercise. It simply wouldn’t
work if it wasn’t.
That opening salvo settles (or rather, doesn’t) into a lively carousel of stylish, well-executed ideas that keep the listener’s imagination fired and limbs moving. ‘Stay Another Season’ acts a coda to ‘Since I Left You’, sampling Madonna’s ‘Holiday’ and thus representing the first time ever that she cleared her music for use in this way. High points are so consistently reached that it’s pointless diving in to describe all of them, but the daft, Disney-esque fantasia of the opening bars of ‘Two Hearts In ¾ Time’, the body slamming beat of ‘Electricity’, the mellow funk of the Isley Brothers-appropriating ‘Close To You’ and the kinetic dancefloor shuffle of ‘Live At Dominoes’ represent some of the key sonic topographical features in this album’s wondrous landscape. Even woozy cocktail-jazz interludes like ‘Tonight’ or the simplistic, luxuriant ‘Little Journey’ work as bridging moments.
carefully selected positioning of ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’
just into its second half is a masterstroke. A stylish, deft and endlessly
amusing Frankenstein’s Monster of a track, based primarily on a blaring Bert
Kaempfert brass riff, it was probably the track that most people associated
with the album and The Avalanches themselves at the time, interpreted as a kind
of novelty song by the industry. However, underneath the swooping,
hundred-mile-an-hour blur of samples, ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ is an absolutely
perfect expression of the joy of crate-digging – you imagine that the snatch of
dialogue saying “Dexter is criminally insane” must have been a wonderful
discovery for a band with a member called Dexter. It’s also a concise microcosm
of Since I Left You at large: a mish-mash of countless, seemingly
unconnected parts resolved, somehow, into a coherent whole.
point on, the longer, mellower tracks are weighted into the back-end of the
record. In these pieces, like the lackadaisical hip-hop of ‘Etoh’ and its sun-drenched
coda ‘Summer Crane’, the
Avalanches let up the hectic pace at which they’ve been jumping from one idea
to the next. Instead, they allow the listener to truly immerse themselves,
allowing those sparks of creativity to smoulder a bit longer. By the time the
dreamy closer ‘Extra Kings’
reaches its final minutes, a very similar vocal sample to the one from ‘Since I
Left You’ fades into the mix, seeming to bring the entire experience full
circle, back to where it started.
enduring marvel of Since I Left You is one of engineering at it finest. At
no point during this hour-long listening experience do The Avalanches draw
attention to the nature of its creation, which, considering the enormous number
of disparate samples, is borderline miraculous. Along with DJ Shadow’s mighty Endtroducing…..,
it stands as the definitive artistic statement in the niche (but influential)
art-form of plunderphonica, influencing countless subsequent artists in the two
Avalanches themselves didn’t begin work on a follow-up to Since I Left You until
2005, after which ill-health, the departure of founding member Darren Seltmann,
various side-projects and general development hell conspired to delay its
progress for over a decade. Finally, in July of 2016, just over fifteen years
after its predecessor, Wildflower
arrived. While it could never hope to replicate the nature of Since I Left
You’s success, it was a more than worthwhile undertaking. At the time of
writing, their third album We Will Always Love You is being prepared for
release in December 2020, its list of guest contributors both impressive and
promising a Gorillaz-style genre blowout. One suspects, however, that nothing
will ever come close to the significance of their 2000 debut.
Listen to Since I Left You by The Avalanches here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!
Basement Jaxx, The Go! Team, Lemon Jelly, Bibio, Four Tet, J Dilla, MF Doom,
Caribou, Mount Kimbie, Gold Panda, James Blake, Jon Hopkins, Air France, D.D.
Dumbo, Superorganism, BADBADNOTGOOD
Influenced by: A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Beastie Boys, Saint Etienne, Primal Scream, David Holmes, The Chemical Brothers, DJ Shadow, Boards Of Canada
Tags: 20th anniversary, Dexter Fabay, Ed Biggs, Modular, Robbie Chater, Since I Left You, The Avalanches, Tony di Blasi
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