CU Independent: Required Listening: “Since I Left You” by The Avalanches
In Required Listening, music director Sam shares some of his favorite records from his collection. This article originally appeared at the CU Independent.
More than any other genre, dance music becomes dated incredibly quickly. Every time a new technological idea develops, it becomes duplicated, so it’s no wonder there’s only a handful of electronic artists who have remained consistently fresh for more than a decade. Melbourne’s sample-happy whippersnappers, The Avalanches, don’t even qualify for this category themselves. Their 16-year stint as a band has yielded a whopping one full-length album, despite constant rumors of a follow-up. What makes that album, “Since I Left You,” a classic record in the most literal sense is that it actually finds a way to use the temporal watermark that comes with any technologically based album to heighten its effect.
Interviews with these Australian goofballs has revealed that there was originally a concrete thread to “Since I Left You.”
“An international search for love from country to country,” is how keyboardist Robbie Chater explains the band’s full-length record. “The idea of a guy following a girl around the world and always being one port behind.”
Even if the plot was dropped, it’s hard to not visualize a story equally as exotic and wide-eyed unfolding on the opening title track. And yet, as an iconic mixture of Willy Wonka chimes with soul-diva cooing set the tone for what’s to come, the lyrics seem to tell a different story.
“Since I left you/I found the world so new,” wails the triumphant lead, hinting at perhaps an even more fundamental feeling of discovery lying at the heart of this record.
Truthfully, “Since I Left You” isn’t the nonstop fantasia of unbridled optimism that its reputation seems to suggest. Tracks like “Stay Another Season” and “Etoh” distort the festive nature of the samples that came before them, creating a genuinely mysterious attitude amidst all the good cheer. All the darker ventures, however, only give the bangers that much more floor to stomp on. “Live at Dominoes” arrives after such an extended section of almost-nightmarish passages that its appearance feels like finally landing on one’s feet again after some endless free fall. This doesn’t even service the fact that it’s one of the most four-on-the-floor tracks on the record, refusing to settle on any one of its brilliant ideas for more than a few measures before distorting into something even more bonkers.
“Dominoes” winds itself down with a callback to the scratchy orchestral samples that have signified some of the prettier moments on “Since I Left You,” but nothing up to this point has hit a point as serene as the magnificent closer, “Extra Kings.” More than anywhere else on the album, the samples on “Extra Kings” are finally given room to breathe and resonate, exploring the feelings associated with each of the samples rather than building one towering sentiment out of dozens of sillier ones. It seems at first like the congratulatory welcome-home docking for a ship that’s been lost at sea for too long, but the track suddenly switches into an all-out hallucinogenic drone. The keyboards become brighter and slowly warped, as if the arrival home has become an entirely new journey unto itself, with just as much opportunity for happiness, defeat and everything that comes in-between. It may not be the attention-deficit firecracker that the grooviest tracks on this album are, but it’s one of the most impressive and transcendent moments on a record full of awe-inspiring juxtapositions.
Unlike artists like Four Tet or Mouse on Mars who have spent their careers expanding 20th Century ideas for 21st Century audiences, “Since I Left You” is an album that feels like a product of the late 90s. Listening to “A Different Feeling” conjures up more images of VHS dance competitions than any club I’ve ever actually been to in my life, yet nostalgia is the blood that keeps this beast of a record marching forward. The Avalanches are well-aware that all trends will wash away with time, but at the heart of all trends is a deeper human need to satisfy our desires to be cool, to be loved, to always have a grip on the world around us that’s just loose enough to be swept away by unpredictability every once in a while. “Since I Left You” is a phenomenal dance record not because of its irresistible beats, but because it actually digs deeper and uncovers why we dance at all.