True story here: A family friend in Leeds needed to take a urine sample to her doctor at short notice, the most appropriate container she had was a whiskey bottle that she washed out and then filled. For very understandable reasons of modesty she put the bottle in a shopping bag for the short journey to the doctor’s. When she exited the crowded bus she found that someone had stolen the bottle out of her bag. I like that story because the crime intrinsically carries its own punishment.
But I just used it as a cheap linking reference to the word ‘sample’ because this is The Avalanches Since I Left You, a LP I got hipped to by someone hipper than I* when it came out in 2000. Now by 2016 this LP just drips acclaim, this gang of Australian ex-punks turned DJ/producers done good. I recommended it, the day before I bought it**, to my mate Will who bought it unheard on my recommendation and it spent the summer sound tracking his and his friends’ European road trip – he loves it, they loved it.
I have heard Since I left You described as house music’s answer to Paul’s Boutique, wrong – it isn’t fit to look in PB’s direction, even. Now I like a lot of dancey stuff, I think sampling, if done with wit, sensitivity, invention and intelligence^ is a great way to make music, from Brian Eno and David Byrne’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts onwards. I really wanted this LP to be as great as everyone else seemed to think it was, but I could never find the key to unlock the door.
Clocking in at an estimated 3500 samples the Avalanches really, really went for it on Since I Left You, the samples and moods they create range crazily from various mariachi bits and bobs, film scores, The Osmonds, Wayne & Shuster and the first time Madonna had ever given permission for her work to be sampled. Their idea was to create/curate a concept album about a chase for love around the world, I couldn’t tell you if they got there.
With just one exception I cannot find a way in to this music, it just forms an aur-wall^* in my head. The exceptions? well it is very good. ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ based around a couple of samples from a sketch by Canadian duo Wayne & Shuster, Maurice Jarre’s^^ theme from Lawrence Of Arabia and some awesome scratching performed by Dexter Fabay. This track stomps, progresses and struts the way I hoped it all would and the video is a fine piece of work too:
You know those summer days when you go outside and everything seems so unhealthily bleached and blanched out by the sun in the still air? Since I Left You to me is like trying to dance in that atmosphere. None of this is, I would add, the fault of the Avalanches. It’s a beautifully put together album with a great cover and I do keep trying to love it – pursuing it round and round, like an aging Lothario played by Terry Thomas chasing a nubile secretary around a desk in the days before they invented sexism; I can’t see it ending too well.
*I know – imagine!
**I was trying to cop the role of ‘hipper friend’ for myself.
^all of which the Avalanches clearly have in abundance.
^*see what I did there? I’m so fetch.
^^Jean Michel’s old man.