Since I Left Irony Behind
Given the inescapable taint of irony that ruled the '90s, it's no surprise The Avalanches were, upon their birth in Melbourne in 1996, up to their eyeballs in it. Backpacker rappers mixing the Beastie Boys' kitsch-mining jocularity with the disingenuous genre-dabbling of Beck, the budding Avalanches —first four, then five, then six of them— were out to party.
Digging through crates of old LPs in thrift-stores, they'd pull samples from unexpected sources; preferring novelty records and '60s MOR cheese to the James Brown/Parliament records that dominate hip-hop DJs' record-bags. On their first EP, 1997's El Producto, The Avalanches still played plenty of real instruments, tossing through their found, 'funny' samples with a comic effect that bordered on mocking; the crew laughing giddily at what they could do with society's hilarious refuse.
Yet, a funny thing happened as The Avalanches ventured towards their debut album. As they pawed through thousands of records, chief Avalanche crate-diggers Darren Seltmann and Robbie Chater started to lose that smug superiority. Instead, they developed a sense of reverence: seeing the LPs' oldness/uncoolness not as failings, but as virtues; hearing a melancholic passing-of-time in every groove.
When Since I Left You finally arrived —in all its painstakingly-pieced-together grandeur— late in 2000, it marked a symbolic end to the prior decade's reign of irony. Lead by its stirring, sweeping, uplifting, utterly romantic title-track, The Avalanches' heart-on-its-sleeve debut LP introduced a new era unafraid of sincerity.
Since I Left Forevermore
Since I Left You takes that hoariest of musical narratives —the DJ taking the listeners on a 'musical journey'— and explores it, in all earnestness, to its conceptual end. From its title on down, the album works as a travelogue; a flight-of-fantasy into imagination, into the liberating power of music. The album is, The Avalanches suggest, a sort of plane ticket unto itself.
There's plenty of literal applications of this idea —recurring samples speaking "Flight 22 is off to Honolulu" or "I need to book a flight tonight"— but, more effectively, there're those that suggest journeying into unknowns (the tweeting woodwinds and hysterical strings of "Summer Crane"'s sunkissed fantasia), or the transience of travel (the one-night-only affair "Tonight May Have to Last Me All My Life").
With oil-painting artwork that shows lifeboats fleeing a sinking ship, The Avalanches even see the romance in the doomed journey. There's nothing more romantic, after all, than the voyage into the eternal sunset.
Which, coincidentally, is to where The Avalanches have sailed. After their debut marked the musical decade anew, it turned out to be their only album of the '00s. Like some Australian Loveless, Since I Left You has been left unadulterated by a follow-up; becoming almost mythical in its singularity. Seltmann and Chater have apparently been hard at work all decade, but with every passing passage-of-time it a follow-up seems less likely to ever materialize. As it stands, when they left us with Since I Left You, they bid a final farewell.