One of my Official Favorite Albums Of 2016 (So Far) is The Avalanches’ Wallflower, released this July and a whole sixteen years (read: musical lifetime) after the Australian genre-mashing outfit’s critically acclaimed first, Since I Left You. The new album is a rich scrapbook mosaic of samples from all kinds music cut and pasted together to make a pretty dope journey through bouncy hip-hop, shimmery sheeny disco, Beatlesy textures and smile-inducing pop references – like the distinct ‘na na na na na na na’ of ‘Getting Jiggy with It’, and a schoolyard chant rendition of ‘Come Together‘ by the Beatles in a song that reminds me of Gorillaz’ ‘Superfast Jellyfish‘.
My favorite sample though, is from ‘Because I’m Me’, the video for which was just released. The track opens with the ever-so-slightly distorted voice of a young boy singing what sounds like an old blues song, accompanied by a sampled snippet of the Honey Cones’ ‘Want Ads‘ which loops throughout. The kid’s voice is from this amazing collection of recordings called Street and Gangland Rhythms, Beats and Improvisations by Six Boys in Trouble: six black children aged 11 and 12 in a room with an audio recorder playing bongos, singing songs they’ve heard or made up in a sad, beautiful, funny and poignant snapshot of their lives living in a group home as future black men in New York City in the 1950s. The “song” in ‘Because I’m Me’ is actually a patchwork of words from a number of songs on the recordings, stuck together to make a tune about unrequited love.
I think one of my favorite things about hip-hop music is the use of samples because of the way those snippets can introduce you to a whole other world of music. Their use also shows the actual depth that goes into true hip-hop production- the work it takes to pick out an undercover piece of a song and make it “the get down” – the groovy baseline, the just-right beat, the thing that makes it fire, as the kids would say. (Related: if this is in any way interests you, you *need* to watch Baz Lurhman’s The Get Down.).
Wallflower contains so many great references you could make a whole other, pretty great diverse mixtape, and I also just love this record because the tracks melt into each other so one song’s ending is another song’s beginning. It’s just so beautifully crafted that I pretty much can’t stop listening to it. And luckily, the videos for the singles have turned out to be just as charming, like this totally appropriate one for ‘Because I’m Me’ with a kid with an afro dancing in the subway backed up by horn players. How could you resist that?