LICK MY DECALS OFF, BABY! #13 - Albums that defy genre #1 - Since I Left You - The Avalanches

Hello, and welcome to the beginning of what I hope will be an interesting and challenging series of articles. I have wanted to do something like this for quite a while. Why? Well, the idea of grouping different music together and calling it the same thing has always been an eyebrow raiser for me. Of course, it’s necessary and most of the time it works, but quite often I have noticed gaping holes in the process of categorization. For example; The Beatles and Aerosmith are both “rock” musicians, but you wouldn’t say their music sounds anything alike, would you? Another one of my gripes with genre classification is that it implies too much of a generalization. When asked, “What type of music do you like?” people normally say something like “rock, pop and punk,” or whatever they like. I don’t know about, you but doesn’t that imply that the person in question likes every single artist who performs within the genres of rock, pop and punk? It all seems to very silly to suggest that someone will instantly like a song, whether good or bad, just because it falls into their genre of preference. Lastly, I believe that classing everything into a genre limits peoples’ acceptance and awareness of other types of music. If someone dislikes a genre, say jazz, I find it’s very difficult to recommend any jazz music to them because of their preconceptions about the genre. The reader will please excuse me for generalizing, but based on my experience this is often the case.

I’m not all against genres. Like I’ve said; music does need to be put into genres, and for almost any piece of music that’s ever been released, there isn’t any problem in finding a genre into which it fits. However, sometimes a piece of music appears that you can’t quite place. It doesn’t appear to be like anything you’ve ever heard before. To me this is tremendously exciting. The three albums I’m going to cover in this series, of course, have their basis in at least one genre; perhaps more. But these genres are merely used as a starting point from which the music progresses. Let me begin firstly with The Avalanche’s 2000 debut; Since I Left You.

The album is essentially a cut-and-paste job of samples. The group has taken hundreds (some sources say THOUSANDS) of different recordings, clipped parts of the songs and has rehashed them into something completely unique. As a result of the diverse nature of the source material, the album doesn’t really “belong” to any genre. Most of the album is characterized by the intensity of the many samples and some danceable, electronic beats, but it’s much more than just that. It’s like a journey through someone’s life. Every conceivable emotion and scenario you can think of is present here. And what’s more, because most of the tracks fade into each other it has a sense of coherence and progression. Since I Left You is an intimate journey through the minds of the musicians who created it. It feels both nostalgic and futuristic at the same time, and despite the samples it feels completely original.

As I previously mentioned, a lot of the album contains dance-like beats, and certain songs like “Close To You” would not be out of place in a club. However, to describe it as merely dance music is wrong. “Close To You” has numerous repeated vocal phrases, piano loops, flute loops, laughing sounds, a very fat drumbeat and various other sounds that I can’t even place. The title track, “Since I Left You,” is a wonderfully emotive piece of music. Not quite dance, not quite pop, but with the best qualities of both. Catchy without being too annoying, simple but not moronic, innovative without being inaccessible. Beginning with a short guitar sample, the song leads into some wonderfully ethereal vocal chants and strings. After the introduction, the lead vocal appears: “Since I left you, I’ve found the world so new.” The song zigzags between tragic and hopeful in a glorious mash of strings, horns, xylophones, drums and vocals. Like most of the rest of the album, it fades into the next song – “Stay Another Season” –, which acts as a sort of recap. Here lies perhaps the most well known sample on the album; Madonna’s “Holiday.”

I’m not going to go through the whole album song by song, because the album is best enjoyed as a whole. Most songs fade into each other, themes heard in one song are repeated elsewhere and the whole album shares the same mood. One song I will hasten to mention, however, is “Frontier Psychiatrist.” While most of the songs on the album have perhaps one or two vocal samples in the background, this has dozens, all telling a tale of a young boy gone insane, along with various other hilarious one-liners. With a gloriously cheesy horn accompaniment and various other hilarious samples (such as a horse neighing, a gun firing, a man screaming etc.) this song is pure genius. It also has one of the most hilarious music videos ever made, so do yourself a favour and YouTube it. Now.

“Since I Left You” is a marvel of an album. Listening to it is like your life flashing before your eyes; bringing together all sorts of unconnected and unalike things for one brief moment of cohesion. It can be funny, futuristic, melancholy, tragic, heroic or any number of adjectives you care to come up with. The most important thing is that it’s a journey. This is the reason albums were made. “Since I Left You” needs to be sat through all in one sitting. It’s just like watching a film or a play, and while there may be no narrative or plot to this album, the theme and feeling is consistent throughout. It’s a rewarding and endlessly satisfying listen.

Words - Adam

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