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9 December 2020

The Avalanches’ We Will Always Love You: uplifting disco meets celestial trip hop

Listening to the Australian electro duo's third album is like floating around a zero-gravity party.

By Emily Bootle

How is it that the Avalanches have gone inside my brain, identified exactly what I need to hear to feel optimistic at the end of a terrible year, and made an album accordingly? We Will Always Love You, out Friday 11 December, is a 25-track electronic extravaganza of uplifting disco and celestial trip hop. Listening to it, life feels altogether more spacious: a powerful corrective to the claustrophobic time we are living through.

The Australian electro duo, Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi, have been making music since the late 1990s when they met in Melbourne, though We Will Always Love You is only their third album. Throughout their career they have relied heavily on sampling to create multi-layered, nostalgic dance tracks (their first album Since I Left You reportedly used more than 3,000 individual samples). We Will Always Love You is similarly constructed: vintage cassette snippets, fragments of spoken word and hazy choral voices give the record a glowing aura. This album also comes with a star-studded feature list: there are collaborations with Blood Orange, Jamie xx, Kurt Vile, MGMT, Denzel Curry, Johnny Marr, Leon Bridges and Karen O.

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Though the Avalanches are ostensibly an EDM act, on We Will Always Love You they demonstrate their range by slowing things down: musically much of the album inhabits a spacey, spiritual atmosphere, prompted by Chater’s fascination with the universe. Chater found inspiration in the story of the Golden Record, the music sent into space on the probe Voyager 1 in 1977, and the love affair between its creators Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan. Druyan’s brainwaves were recorded and included on the Voyager record (which was created for the benefit of any extraterrestrials who might discover it); her face is now the cover of We Will Always Love You. A sample of the voice of former UN secretary general Kurt Waldheim, a recording also sent into space on Voyager 1, is featured on “Wherever You Go” over otherworldly drones: “We step out of our solar system into the universe seeking only peace and friendship,” he says. (Voyager 1 is at the time of writing 14,138,395,282 miles away from Earth.)

“Wherever You Go” (featuring Jamie xx, Neneh Cherry and CLYPSO) is found in the album’s energetic, floor-filling dance phase: the darker, dirtier bassline (characteristic of Jamie xx) arrives with an EDM drop, and propels the track into a club tune. Aside from “Interstellar Love” (featuring Leon Bridges), which lifts the tempo for the first time from shoegazy trip hop to lo-fi house at track six, the first half of the album is immersive, yet understated and relaxed, with layers of muffled gospel choirs and expansive vibrations. It’s not until “We Go On” (featuring Cola Boyy and Mick Jones) that the sound begins to open up into something more revelatory: as well as strings and tingly metallic sound effects, there’s a calypso beat and bubbling steel drums.

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The party mood reaches its climax at “Music Makes Me High”, an up-tempo disco-house track, before winding back down to more reflective stargazing. There is a striking dedication to textural development: each track is highly sensory, with different consistencies layered on top of each other. On “Take Care In Your Dreaming” the cloudy shoegaze is juxtaposed with sharp verses from rapper Denzel Curry; after 20 tracks of thick electro, “Always Black” falls back into rapped vocal and piano. The record closes with a full track of analogue, sci-fi bleeps.

Listening to We Will Always Love You is like floating around some sort of zero-gravity party. But far from the cold and dark of outer space, this album provides warmth, light and, crucially, a reason to dance.