“Frankie Sinatra” and the return of The Avalanches – why Wildflower is worth the 16 year wait

Two years ago, Danny Brown told us his collaboration with The Avalanches would ‘change the world’. Dust settles now on that world – one in which The Avalanches are most definitely back – and whether or not “Frankie Sinatra” was worth the agonising sixteen-year wait is up for debate.

But let’s get something straight: the collab Brown spoke of was not “Frankie Sinatra”. “[That] was the first one we did,” he told triple J Music Director Richard Kingsmill backstage at Splendour in the Grass 2014. “That was cool, but the one we did after that…I swear, if we put that out, it’ll change the world. I heard it that first night and that was the only time I heard it. I wanna hear it again!”

According to Reddit’s ravenous sleuths, that second track is entitled “The Wozard Of Iz”. Amazon France provided the final puzzle piece when it erroneously posted previews of all 21 songs on The Avalanches’ forthcoming LP, Wildflower.

Whether the track does, in fact, ‘change the world’, remains to be seen. Indeed, many have already dismissed The Avalanches’ fabled second album, based not on actually hearing it, but on the unmitigated hype that unavoidably surrounds it. How could it possibly live up to the expectations that have simmered this entire century?

“Frankie Sinatra” divided social media when it debuted last week. Some bemoaned its simplistic beat and despaired at its decidedly uncool sousaphone; others relished its unhinged boisterousness. Others still were simply relieved for tangible proof that The Avalanches were not dead. But few stopped to consider that such a dialogue was impossible when last the group released new music. It wasn’t pre-Facebook, it was pre-MySpace. Meanwhile, one writer feebly attempted to lump the song in with the 1990’s fad known as ‘electro-swing’.

“Frankie Sinatra’s” incessant hook isn’t from a swing record. It’s from “Bobby Sox Idol”, a 1947 calypso by “King” Wilmoth Houdini and his Calypso Parliament. If anyone should need evidence of The Avalanches’ deep, reverent appreciation of calypso and soca, look no further than this 2005 live recording from their Brains! club night:

Like any true calypso, “Bobby Sox Idol” is topical, funny and delivered with fiery showmanship. But stirred into a pot bubbling with klezmorim oompah and potty-mouthed 21st century rapping, Houdini’s chorus completes a gumbo that is weird and interesting – which has always been The Avalanches’ best recipe.

At first listen, it’s disorientingly contemporary (perhaps that’s why many expectant fans wooed by the vintage wow and flutter of Since I Left You, have recoiled), but deeper listening reveals trademark Avalanchian detail: wild filter sweeps, layered atmospherics, disembodied vocal grabs. It’s a fairground carny nightmare in the best possible way, and as producer Robbie Chater admitted to Beats One DJ Zane Lowe, ‘strangely repetitive and annoying’. You can’t help but listen again…and again. 1.3 million YouTube viewers evidently agree.

Those perturbed by The Avalanches’ supposedly sudden hip hop leanings should check out their debut single “Rock City” and subsequent EP, El Producto. And as for the blatant, heavy-handed sampling of “My Favourite Things” – that may be something of a cheeky middle finger, aimed at the copyright lawyers who denied the band use of a more modest Rodgers and Hammerstein sample some sixteen years ago.

As details concerning Wildflower slowly emerge and people eventually get to hear the thing, “Frankie Sinatra” will be revealed for what it is: a fun, accessible lead single designed to snag curious ears and coax their owners into a parallel universe. Recall that “Frontier Psychiatrist” played a similar role on Since I Left You, and remains something of a novelty.

Wildflower, likes its predecessor, is a seamless hour-long excursion that will be best swallowed whole. It promises the soaring strings and euphoric kiddy-soul of “Because I’m Me”, the dirty disco of “Subways” and pulsing minimalism of “If I Were a Folkstar”, and the paisley-soaked rush of “Colours”, via samples of everything from pre-school games to hip NYC no-wave.

If Since I Left You was a fantasy cruise to uncharted tropical islands, then Wildflower will be a sun-damaged road trip across a psychotropic desert continent…like On The Road, hosted by Homer Simpson‘s Space Coyote. If that news doesn’t placate “Frankie Sinatra” haters, nothing will.

I didn’t wait sixteen years to stream “Frankie Sinatra” on YouTube. I waited sixteen years to pop on decent headphones, lay back with my eyes closed, and experience Wildflower.


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