Since I Left You 4LP (20th Anniversary reissue)
While I have serious reservations about a reissue which features enough remixes to occupy half of the medium into which the title is pressed (the 4LP reissue of Since I Left You presents the album pressed into two LPs, and features enough remixes to fill another two LPs), there is absolutely no way to deny the influence of The Avalanches’ first album. The influence that the album has exerted is spectacular.
Don’t believe me, reader? Think the scope of The Avalanches’ influence can’t possibly be that significant? Look at it this way:
The Avalanches introduced a thematic breadth which hadn’t been seen in electronic music before. Prior to 2001, club music was all about the beat – but The Avalanches tweaked that sensibility to give their songs storylines and scenery; not a narrative, exactly, but they gave the impression that there was a coherent idea which wanted expression and not JUST a beat. The group colored their ideas in with an almost cinematic structure and progression; granted, listeners might not have necessarily understood where it was going, but the right minds can enjoy a foreign film without the benefit of subtitles or being able to speak the language. The important part was the experience and how it felt. Simply said, the sound could be magnificent and, if it made a listener feel something they’d never experienced before, then that was the whole point and it was obviously successful. As years would pass, rock bands like Ween and Flaming Lips would integrate The Avalanches’ unusual sense of sonic design into their own music and innumerable producers and Djs would take a lot of joy in standing on the group’s shoulders as they attempted to find their own unique method of expression. That said, it needs to be asked, “How does Since I Left You hold up, twenty years after it was first released?”
Since I Left You holds up surprisingly well, actually.
As the A-side of Since I Left You begins to spin, the first thing that may strike listeners is just how bright the remastered sound on this reissue is. There is a particular crack to the beat in the title track (which opens the album) that is capable of snapping listeners to attention, and that fact is perfectly self-evident within seconds of stylus touching down and finding the groove.There, after some light and jubilant guitar as well as some very “disco” finagling/sampling drizzles in, “Since I Left You” finds a good and retro vibe on which to open and pushes it along for about four minutes – but it’s only with careful listening that one will notice that, in fact, The Avalanches are seamlessly layering samples (some disco, some show tunes, something which sounds like it might be an advertisement and a couple of other textures which are more difficult to qualify) and the mishmash they’ve created is so smooth that it sounds like a complete and completely original song. Even now – twenty-one years later – the blend of the sounds and the experience of listening to it is completely surreal. Equally unusual is the fact that there is no hard break between “Since I Left You” and the song which follows it, “Stay Another Season”; in this case, one song sort of morphs into the next with the help of some reoccurring samples.
After “Stay Another Season” begins its fade-out, Since I Left You hits its first fever pitch with “Radio.” There, a series of screeching sounds, samples and beats spontaneously converge without warning and, when they do, the song suddenly emerges. The way it happens is as unlikely as it is fantastic and, when it does happen, the result is the first essential four-minute-and-twenty-one-second oasis in the album’s running; listeners will discover a sense of relief about the song as its samples fluidly move about the mix and somehow establish a sense of composition. When Since I Left You was first released in 2000, “Radio” amazed listeners who discovered the album and it’s still possible to experience that amazement here and now – and that it slides so easily into “Two Hearts In 3/4 Time” (which closes the side) makes for a perfectly fluid movement which guarantees that listeners (whether it’s their first time through the album, or their thousandth) will be hooked deeply enough to at least play through the B-side.
Of course, not every song on Since I Left You can be a winner, and unfortunately “Avalanche Rock” does not answer “Two Hearts In 3/4 Time” very well at all. Here, the track stands out for its brevity (elsewhere on Since I Left You, the focus has been on the build-up of a given track, as well as the artifice of it), but really fails to register. At a runtime of just twenty-four seconds – the song pushes in and then pushes out – and leaves the album to do whatever it needs to do, without leaving any aftertaste or residual impression.”Flight Tonight” sort of recovers the play with its bracing sounds of overhead flight running from channel-to-channel and the occasional dramatic insertion of airline jargon into the mix – but listeners may find that they’re still waiting for business to pick up as the side moves on.
“Diners Only” sees The Avalanches still trying to find their way but, happily, the group does fall backwards into a great, warm and very club-identified jam, “A Different Feeling,” which closes the B-side.
Given its placement on this record, it’s hard to say that “A Different Feeling” was an intentional star turn for The Avalanches in this running, but there’s no denying that it is precisely that, and it really shines brightly at the close of Since I Left You‘s B-side. Using brilliantly appointed disco samples (guitar, strings, drums and vocals), The Avalanches dissect song structure and then reconstruct the whole mess to remain sounding very “disco” in design, but very otherworldly in delivery. It’s remarkable, actually; the pop angles of the cut are undeniable but there are no vocal hooks (which are usually a requirement for a pop song). Under normal circumstances, that The Avalanches are serving dance floor pop without key aspects of dance floor pop in place would alienate listeners from the music but, here, listeners will be sucked right inand engaged, and that will have them reaching to replace the record and start the C-side of the set without even a consideration to the alternative and, after that’s done, “Electricity” keeps the exact same pace as “A Different Feeling.” After that, “Tonight May Have to Last Me The Rest of My Life” fumbles the ball a little as it focuses on (and spends entirely too much time with) a sample from a painfully warped record which goes nowhere (or, at least, nowhere good), but recovers its running well with “Pablo’s Cruise” – which exists to serve up “Frontier Psychiatrist” to close the side beautifully, and continues to stand as The Avalanches’ calling card cut.
Twenty-one years later, “Frontier Psychiatrist” remains the standout single that even those with only a passing familiarity to The Avalanches know. Even now, it’s understandable why the single is so well exposed, too; all the promise implied elsewhere on Since I Left You arrives completely realized and in the greatest focus on this song. Throughout the cut, the samples layer on top of each other in a way which makes a po single instead of a dance cut, but none of it diverges too dramatically from the manner in which the other songs on the album are constructed.
“Frontier Psychiatrist” is simply a different maturation of the ideas which were developed elsewhere on Since I Left You, and the results are a fantastic breakthrough for both the album and the artist. In this case, the dialogue samples push the track along as vocals would for a pop song, and the string samples add a sense of drama which makes the play feel epic. Now, in theory, the manner in which “Frontier Psychiatrist” is constructed may feel like a dicey proposition but, in 2001, the song was just the sort of thing that could get The Avalanches noticed in an era which was still trying to find a voice for itself. At the time “Electronica” had breached the mainstream – but race front-runners The Chemical Brothers could only do so much with a cast of all-stars who were otherwise engaged most of the time and so couldn’t commit to touring with the act. Such would eventually be the problem that The Avalanches would face too – but, for the moment that Since I Left You was new, the explosion that “Frontier Psychiatrist” represented as a single remains impressive. Using samples, establish a personality in “Frontier Psychiatrist” which is completely unique within the context of pop.
After “Frontier Psychiatrist” closes out the C-side of Since I Left You, listeners will be left on a high that the D-side of Since I Left You never quite achieves again, but it does coast very well on an elevated plain to close out the album. On “Etoh,” for example, samples of gently strummed guitars and an easy beat make for a soothing experience that really makes the most of not actually going anywhere, and “Summer Crane” creates a similarly bent, almost cinematic presentation complete with string samples to help the earlier cuts on the side trail off. After that, “Little Journey” begins wishing listeners a bon voyage and fades out, but then returns with exhilarating flare before it finishes in order to help “Live at Dominoes” bring minds back to the dancefloor and get listeners moving again.
Since I Left You‘s D-side closes with “Extra Kinks” and illustrates that, while it is closing down the bar, The Avalanches are still capable of throwing some fireworks into the air to see listeners off. Whistling fades close the song in an almost celestial and serene and leaves listeners feeling satisfied. Granted, while most acts would try to close out the show with something bright and explosive, that this D-side basically functions like an extended fade-out leaves a sense of satisfaction in its wake too.
…And in the true sense of classicism, the end of the first two LPS in this reissue leaves listeners having felt the same kind of exhilarating experience that they did when they first encountered Since I Left You, twenty-one years ago.
The catch, for many listeners, will be that there are still two LPs left in this reissue of Since I Left You – two long-playing albums comprised entirely of remixes. For this critic, the remix tracks included should come with a label which reads, “For the Most Rabid of Completists Only” (and, by extension, could likely have been included as a download card thrown in with a really strong 2LP vinyl reissue – if only to bring the cost of this set down a little from its significant asking price); but some fans and aspiring DJs will definitely be thrilled at the inclusion of all the extras. The remastering job applied does make the remixes shimmer vibrantly, and will find ears which are excited at their inclusion, after they’ve been won over by the first half of the set. For this critic’s money though, the first half of the Since I Left You 4LP reissue is essential – everyone needs to hear it – while the second half is solely for those who crave a desert which is as large as the main course they’ve already enjoyed. [Bill Adams]
The Twentieth Anniversary, 4LP reissue of Since I Left You will be released on June 25, 2021 on Astralwerks/Universal Music. Pre-order it here, on Amazon.