Grade: 4.0 / 5.0
The Avalanches, so far, have released music once a decade. Their first album came in 2000; their third one, We Will Always Love You, now comes out 20 years later. This slow pace has added a veil of deliberation and reverence to their releases, and their new album is as precise and venerable as their previous ones. We Will Always Love You is warm but chilly, welcoming yet distant. It simultaneously ascends and descends an eternal staircase, constantly moving away from one point and cautious in every mesmerizing step it takes.
The album is anthological in scope, with echoes of different voices hollowing out the chilled atmosphere. On “We Will Always Love You,” singer Blood Orange is an effervescent guide, a Virgil guiding the audience’s Dante into the underground. Rivers Cuomo’s corniness becomes endearing on “Running Red Lights,” and Superorganism’s Orono Noguchi delivers monolithic, monotonous monologues that give the album its structural integrity.
This anthological, knotted approach allows for an array of disparate moods and stories to weave together seamlessly. “Ghost Story” billows into “Song for Barbara Payton” like a wind through a cave entrance. Elsewhere, the introduction of the danceable, punchy “Interstellar Love” could have come off as a jarring strike; instead, the album glides between songs like a coxswain navigating a familiar, stony river.
With each song, the album sinks deeper, the weight of previous tracks pressing in. It’s a long album, and thus must justify its length with every song. The Avalanches must convince the audience that each story on We Will Always Love You deserves the attention it receives. They do so by allowing some songs to simply float along, while others create the ripples and waves that serve as the album’s focal points.
It is familiar to many other journeys in this sense. Every vignette bids farewell to the last, each calling for an innovation clearly present in the Avalanches’ new musical approach, which sees a stark reduction of sampling compared to previous projects. While We Will Always Love You still teems with samples, the diversity of life found within it is a result of a varied assortment of characters rather than sounds. The sound of We Will Always Love You is staggeringly consistent, a monolithic glow that warps and deviates but still navigates a tight aesthetic flow.
This flow is filled with ambient voids that echo and reflect throughout the walls of the album’s soundscape, like bats flitting between stalactites in a limestone cavern. The album carries a mythical confidence, and it is through its soundscape that it so successfully crafts its lyrical and emotional themes.
We Will Always Love You sweetly deals with bitter loss. It is an attempt to wrestle with fear, pain, regret, death and heartbreak. “Music Makes Me High” plays like a dance track from a club that has long closed down. “Overcome” is a hopeful song, filled with praise and adoration, a choir of light singing to the album’s nomadic traveler.
Listening to music is a subjective experience. The precept of We Will Always You is one of reflection upon this experience. The album is like a recollection of stories told to Charon before arriving at the end of the Styx. It is a single canvas painted on by multiple artists, each one affecting the other. The Avalanches excel in creating this canvas, allowing for an explosive and brilliant burst of life. They use samples and sounds of the past to create a futuristic, forward-facing sound, one that unifies a potentially scattered concept.
When the album inevitably touches upon the opposite bank of its runtime, it is not the end. Instead, “Weightless” serves as a glimpse into the spacious void of the beyond. It is a humming, buzzing chaos, like Willy Wonka’s Everlasting Gobstopper machine. The song serves as the perfect endpoint for We Will Always Love You, the truest deviation from the ambience that dominates the record. It is the final story of a satellite zipping across the universe, hoping to embed its knowledge into some other star system. It beeps with souvenirs of the album, a record that truly roots itself in the hallowed evocations of gray memory, an Orpheus who never looked back.