Friday, August 29, 2008

GREAT MOMENTS IN PARTY MUSIC: The Avalanches "Since I Left You" (Australia 2000, US/UK 2001)

I begin to yawn when I hear people discuss Girl Talk's "Feed the Animals." It is, at best, a spotty and patchwork affair that fails to show any glimmer of imagination. (It should be noted that every time this album comes up in conversation, someone has to rave about how it's being marketed. Further proof that the economic boom of the 1990s unleashed a virulent strain of gung-ho capitalism that has managed to infect the hip set).

The most tragic aspect of "Feed the Animals" is that it’s a very crappy mashup album masquerading as a triumphant piece of postmodernism. The beatmatching is so-so, and there is no element of surprise or inventive recontextualization of sound. It’s nothing more than a bunch of annoying pop songs from past and present thrown together in one long blah mix. The result is an erratic and sometimes frustrating listen. I highly doubt that anyone will be listening to “Feed the Animals” two years from now. This album will probably be looked upon with less favor than the old 'Stars on 45' and 'Hit Parade' compilations.

By this point it should be painfully evident that I’m someone who begs for complexity and innovation in his party music. In my opinion, to use a sample well is to breath new life into a piece of dialogue or a guitar lick. The Beastie Boys' "Paul's Boutique" and De La Soul's "Three Feet High and Rising" gave us a glimpse of how powerful sampling could be. But thanks to a series of lawsuits in the late 1980s, it's prohibitively expensive to make records that rely heavily on found sounds. Since then, artists have been forced to find increasingly clever ways to release sample-heavy material. This is done by being signed to a smaller label and doing limited pressings) OR by utilizing such a mind bogglingly array of sounds that it would be nearly impossible for a listener to dismantle the record. Two records that have successfully managed to do this: DJ Shadow's landmark "Endtroducing" and RJD2's "Dead Ringer". But neither of these albums would count as party music as they’re both rather cerebral, and a bit depressing at times.
The Avalanches "Since I Left You" is definitively a party album. But it also has enough depth that you can spend hours trying to figure out what sample came from where. The samples range from the obvious (Madonna's "Holiday") to the obscure (the keyboard solo from the end of John Cale's "Ghost Story"). Where “Endtroducing” and “Dead Ringer” come off as grey, and slightly drab, “Since I Left You” is unabashedly Technicolor. If there are any moody moments on this album, they are fleeting. When I spent a semester in Nice, France, this album was on regular rotation at my friends Angie’s apartment. I seem to remember spending a lot of time on her couch drinking kalimotxos (red wine and Coke) and raving about whatever girl I was crushing on at the time.

“Two Hearts in ¾ Time”

“Flight Tonight”

Unfortunately, this Australian DJ collective has been pretty quiet for the last seven years. While they've made a handful of live appearances, the group has shown little evidence that they're working on anything new. There’ve been rumors about a full length follow up to "Since I Left You," since 2006. However, no new tracks have surfaced, which is rather disenheartning. Why would a group with so much talent allow second-class acts like Girl Talk to emerge?