When The Avalanches went to work on their groundbreaking 2000 release Since I Left You, they didn’t realize their album would receive widespread acclaim and become the critical darling of many publications. This led to an often cavalier attitude towards tracking sample sources. “We had no idea the record would get such a wide-scale release so we saw no need to keep track of what we were using,” Avalanches member Robbie Chater told Sound on Sound in a 2002 interview. “We were definitely guilty of harboring a ‘No-one’s going to listen to it anyway’ sort of attitude.”
Beyond the group’s belief that nobody would care about their album, the sheer volume of samples used in their debut also made it difficult to cite everything. Chater estimated that the group used a jaw-dropping 3,500 samples to achieve the album’s beautiful and dizzying array of sounds — averaging close to 200 different samples per song. “Squinting back, most tracks had at least two (Akai) S2000 programs full of samples,” he told Sound on Sound. “That’s 100 keygroups per program, one sample per keygroup, multiplied by 18 songs.”
Some may see the number of samples used as gimmicky and famed Village Voice critic Robert Christgau dismissed The Avalanches as “string-section disco”, but Since I Left You has cohesion and purpose throughout, making for a rich, diverse listen. Drawing from long-forgotten disco, lounge, and soul records, The Avalanches managed to reanimate the work of countless forgotten artists into one flawless and fluid composition.
“The Avalanches use so many samples to create something so indisputably their own that to accuse them of plagiarism is pointless”- Nick Hornby
More than just an enjoyable listen, Since I Left You also helped sample-based musicians gain a higher level of respect from critics and peers. In his collection Songbook, High Fidelity author and longtime music connoisseur Nick Hornby said of the group’s sampling, “I once presumed that nothing good — nothing great, anyway — could come out of the mixing and matching and scratching and cutting and pasting, and this was true while the approach of the cutters and pasters remained essentially plagiaristic.”
Hornby then goes on to write that The Avalanches made him reconsider his dismissive position on sampling when he listened to their debut effort. “The Avalanches use so many samples to create something so indisputably their own that to accuse them of plagiarism is pointless,” he wrote. “You may as well make the same case against a writer whose books contain words that other writers have used before.”
Although one could dedicate a lifetime to tracking down all of the samples The Avalanches used to “create something so indisputably their own,” it appears the original version of Since I Left You was even more sample-dense than the one Hornby wrote about. According to Chater, original drafts of the album had almost twice as much music as the version released to stores. “I think that the album was a little diluted by the time we had finished clearing all the samples,” Chater told Tiscali in a 2002 interview. “We’ve got even longer versions of the album back at home. They’re about two hours long, but we thought we’d better edit it before we put it out.”
“We were definitely guilty of harboring a ‘No-one’s going to listen to it anyway’ sort of attitude.”- Robbie Chater
Sampling technology and techniques may have evolved exponentially in the 17 years after the release of Since I Left You, but the album still remains a remarkable feat in sample chopping mastery. The Avalanches somehow managed to take 3,500 disparate clips of sound and weave them into an indispensable sample-based album. Whether you’re a casual fan of sampling or an avid music nerd, a single listen to their epic sound collage will make it clear why the group won the hearts of critics and fans everywhere.
Listen to Since I Left You on Spotify.
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