Transcendent, heartfelt effort from electronic sampling wizards
“We’ll always love you, but that’s not the point,” sing The Roches on 1979’s “Hammond Song.” More than 40 years later, their words are jury rigged to form the philosophical core of The Avalanches’ third studio album, 2020’s We Will Always Love You. The Australian electronic act has a history of stitching together samples like they’re fabrics in a grand tapestry, but their decades of success as plunderphonics may have reached new heights.
The Avalanches are made up of Melbourne natives Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi, but on We Will Always Love You, the duo enlists the help of a wide range of artists past and present. Orono Noguchi, Blood Orange and Jimmy Osmond are just a few names on The Avalanches’ diverse selection of musicians, but the band fuse their different styles together seamlessly. Maintaining a spellbinding and whimsical aura throughout, We Will Always Love You keeps things coherent musically, lyrically and thematically, even with its wide array of sounds and contributors.
Creative sampling and instrumentation are a staple of The Avalanches’ recent effort. The record is bookended by spoken word passages from Orono that were inspired by a voicemail sent to her boyfriend when she was 14. “I’m sorry I left so suddenly/ I just wanted you to know I’m okay here” she says on opener “Ghost Story,” a line that, when supported by the album’s other lyrics, implies the death of the speaker and the central theme of the project: when people die, how can we maintain our relationships with them?
That theme is further elucidated on each track, often in supremely creative fashion. Take the brief interlude “Solitary Ceremonies,” which samples a radio broadcast from composer and medium Rosemary Brown. In it, she explains how Franz Lizst told her to compose a song from beyond the grave.
The tracks “Interstellar Love” and “Reflecting Light” help clarify things further. On the former, Leon Bridges croons, “Our souls belong among the stars/ Our bodies can’t hold it in,” while on the latter, Sananda Maitreya emotes, “In my midnight hour, yeah/ I stand in this reflecting light,” both lyrics touching on the ephemeral and interconnected nature of the human soul.
Other tracks touch on The Avalanches’ displeasure with the modern world. Songs like “We Go On,” “Wherever You Go” and “Take Care in Your Dreaming” explore the hardships faced by featured artists, pointing to a lack of love and care for one another, as humans, as the culprit.
The band drops a few hints about their message, many of which are tied to motifs. Barbara Payton, the troubled actress whose career suffered from her tumultuous relationships, surfaces several times–the track “Star Song.IMG” sounds like static nothingness, but when put on a spectrometer, it forms an image of the deceased Hollywood starlet.
There’s also the recurring image of a bright light, which seems to represent an unseen but constant love emanating from loved ones past and present, as well as the color of pink champagne, perhaps a symbol of death (hinted at by the lyrics “The light of my life is going out tonight/ In a pink champagne Corvette” on “Dial D for Devotion”). There’s even a musical motif, a harmonic chorus of disembodied voices, that appears sporadically.
And all of this doesn’t even take into account the beauty of the music itself. We Will Always Love You has feel-good indie pop tunes like the MGMT-featuring “The Divine Chord,” slick and funky grooves like “Oh The Sunn!” with Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction, and more experimental compositions like “Gold Sky,” incorporating the lazy, rambling spoken word of Kurt Vile. The lengthy tracklist covers just about every genre there is, but at its core, each track imbues a sense of dreaminess that somehow threads the needle between the record’s disparate catalogue of sounds.
There are some truly stunning musical moments on this record, from the soft, calming oohing of vocal harmonies on “Ghost Story” to the euphoric final chorus of “Running Red Lights” to the warm, sweet synth chords on “Music is the Light.” But even outside of those pockets of beauty, there’s plenty to love about the rest of the instrumentation, which will make listeners jubilant, downtrodden or cathartic throughout the record.
Closing track “Weightless” ties everything together. Formed around Morse code of the Arecibo Message–a coded recording for extraterrestrials, detailing what human life looks like–the song reprises Orono’s dreamy spoken word, reassuring the listener that “I’ll be with you, and I’ll always love you.”
We Will Always Love You is the blueprint for what an album should be. The Avalanches take no liberties with the record; each beat seems to be painstakingly thought out, with sounds and lyrics from one track often resurfacing on others to form a complex web of a story. Upon ingesting the entire sonic tapestry, the meaning of the line, “We’ll always love you, but that’s not the point” starts to become clearer. It’s how you harness the power of that love that matters.