Retrospecticus: a journey back into my musical history. I’ll be revisiting albums that opened up new genres for me as well as ones that changed the way I thought about music entirely. In a word: definitive. This column will appear biweekly on Thursdays, but for more of my words, visit Dipped in Dollars.
It is impossible to think about an album that has become so much a part of me, without considering the moment I first heard it. I was driving around with my high school boyfriend the summer after our senior year of high school when he popped The Avalanches’ Since I Left You into his CD player, and I am infinitely grateful to him for that moment. I grabbed myself a copy before I headed off to college, and never looked back. I’ve been a fan for about five years (forgive me for my youth), but Since I Left You was released over ten years ago, and still manages to sound impeccably fresh to this day. At the time of my first listen I was deep into the indie rock stage of my musical education, and the idea of an album comprised entirely of samples existed outside my understanding of reality. My mind was completely blown, I had never heard anything that sounded like that before. It legitimized a style and set the standard for years to come.
In spite of being a remarkably progressive electronic album, the use of dated samples transforms the album into a time capsule of sorts. It becomes a bundle of sounds that is both revolutionary and timeless. There is this constant push and pull between past and future sounds that allows it to exist unanchored. There are overtones of disco and jazz and bossa nova while hints of hip-hop and soul and electronica whisper underneath. Genres morph into one another at the drop of a dime, and one can never be sure where they’re heading next. While some of its parts can thrive separate from the whole (“Frontier Psychiatrist” for example, which is profoundly different from every other track), the true power of the album is its strength as a unit.The fact that the tracks are nearly seamless only adds to the idea of the collection existing as a concise meditation on a journey, almost like scenes from a play which demand you view them in order. It is quietly contemplative, never screaming of how incredibly clever it is, rather you are left to reach that conclusion on your own, with aural evidence as your only clue. The individual samples (estimated to number over 3,000) gain greater significance collectively as they are applied with orchestral specificity. Even without knowledge of the method of its creation, it is still an intoxicating offering. It doesn’t rely on the samples as a gimmick, instead they are only employed as they should be; when they in fact add something greater to the whole.
The true staying power of any album is when you can listen to it, years later, and still discover new things to love. With each listen I discover something I hadn’t noticed before, and as a result the album becomes limitless. I have been sitting with this album for years, and I can’t see the love affair ending any time soon. The Avalanches have created something here that exists outside of themselves as well as its origins, and that is a remarkable feat. These sounds have never sounded so good.