The Avalanches have been together almost a quarter century and We Will Always Love You is only the Australian duo’s third album. The pair works at its own pace, obviously, and the result of this slow evolution is a star-studded album of mellow beats and deft knob twiddling.
The album’s first, self-titled, single drips with 8-bit atmospherics. English singer-songwriter Blood Orange (Dev Hynes) delivers several bars of heavily inflected British rap over the song’s chill vibes with samples from “I’ll Take You Anywhere That You Come” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, and “Hammond Song” by The Roches. “Draped in monotony/ What’s my life gotten me?/ Hard to be glorious when two minds meet in the corner/ And a story is being told,” Blood Orange raps.
The album mixes the duo’s in-the-box studio wizardry with some live instrumentation. “Running Red Lights,” which features Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, offers a delicate musical blend of acoustic guitar and chiming xylophone. The song is a tribute to Silver Jews frontman David Berman, who passed away last year. The song borrows lyrics from “Darkness and Cold,” a song Berman recorded with his project Purple Mountains in 2019. “The light of my life is going out tonight in a pink champagne Corvette/ The light in my life is going out tonight without a flicker of regret,” Cuomo sings.
One of the most surprising aspects of the album is the broad swathe of collaborators The Avalanches have enlisted. Jane’s Addiction frontman and Lollapalooza creator Perry Farrell joins the band for the electric piano and heavy bass thumping disco groove of “Oh the Sunn.” Farrell joins a children’s choir and delivers the song’s lyrics with a slick Jamiroquai-esque falsetto. R&B genius Tricky joins forces with the band on “Until the Daylight Comes,” delivering a spaced-out monologue over vaguely sci-fi, echoey and angular synthesizers.
MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser team up with The Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr on “The Divine Chord.” MGMT’s talent for simple hooks dominates the sparkling, sort of disco-pop gem. Marr’s contributions are less obvious, but his sophisticated and filigreed guitar parts embroider the song’s musical edges.
Modern music sometimes appears ready to split right down the middle—with live instrumentation and conventional songwriting splitting away from the knob twiddling and musical point-and-clicking of much of today’s computer-based production. The Avalanches stand astride this divide and offer the best of both worlds. Critics often complain that electronic music is overly sterile and devoid of emotion. Frank Zappa famously proclaimed, “The computer can’t tell you the emotional story. It can give you the exact mathematical design, but what’s missing is the eyebrows.” Here again, The Avalanches demonstrate the limits to conventional thinking. We Will Always Love You practically throbs with flesh and blood of humanity, while at the same time demonstrating the incredible musical power technology has bequeathed to musicians here in the 21st century.