In 2009, Austrian-born graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister gave a TED Talk on the benefits of time off. Sagmeister, who is based in New York, had realized that our traditional lifespans are segmented into three definable chunks. For the first 25 years of our life, we learn. For the next 40 years, we work. And, with our final 15 years or so, we retire, finally free to pursue whatever we might be interested in.
Sagmeister decided there was probably a better way to disperse his time. If he were to cut off five years from the retirement portion of his life and divide up his working years with year-long breaks, he thought he would be better served. So, every seven years, Sagmesiter takes a year-long sabbatical from running his design company, dismissing everything we’ve come to know about careers. Some of his most inspired work, he says, has come from things he’s learned and thought about during those sabbaticals.
It might not work for every person, but Sagmeister asserts that there is indeed something to be said for taking time off to re-center your focus.
That’s why this week’s announcement that The Avalanches are returning to play live shows this summer is so exciting.
The Avalanches released their debut album, “Since I Left You,” on Nov. 27, 2000. It was critically adored, and spent numerous weeks up and down the charts.
The band has yet to release a follow-up.
Admittedly, the band hasn’t officially announced that their follow-up record is imminent. They have only announced summer tour dates. But the implication is that with new shows comes new music, which means we will finally get to see what Robbie Chater, Tony Di Blasi and company have been working on for so long.
This is something almost entirely new. There are no touchstones of expectation. All of our conventional frames for follow-up records were eschewed by the time 2005 rolled around, and it was revealed that the band had only just begun working on its second album.
For a group with such a widely-lauded first effort to forgo a timely follow-up was to spit in the face of formulaic release calendars. The Beatles began, captured the attention of the world, and split up in 10 years’ time. Here The Avalanches were, five years after a spectacular first foray, just sort of idling in pursuit of their second record.
Fast forward 11 more years, and their next project still hasn’t arrived. It’s only been teased, with a few mixes from the band scattered across the past decade, to whet the appetite of its rabid fan base.
One of The Avalanches’ founding members, Darren Seltmann, has left the band. James Dela Cruz, a member for the first four years of the century, has returned to the fold. Members of this decade’s music scene like Danny Brown and Ariel Pink are expected to be featured on the record, whenever it’s unveiled.
Why should we be so excited about a second Avalanches album? This was important music The Avalanches were making. Philly native Questlove has called the album one of the most influential albums of his life.
The original record was so influential to modern music. The Avalanches would be heralded as harbingers of so many sounds we now take for granted if they had actually released music since Bill Clinton was in office.
Mid-tempo cut “ETOH” is reminiscent of Diplo’s earliest work, a breakbeat backing Eastern instrumentation and dusty female vocals. Breakout lead single “Frontier Psychiatrist” is a fun, animated song replete with hilarious samples, a forerunner to Gorillaz songs like “Superfast Jellyfish.” The plunderphonics style itself was an early version of what Pennsylvania native Gregg Gillis would do under his Girl Talk moniker.
It was something fresh, a quality the band has hopefully retained during its Sagmeister-esque sabbatical.
On the opening track of that wistful debut album, the band samples the song “Everyday” by The Main Attraction, released in 1967, chopping the vocal and giving both the song and album its name.
“Since I left you,” the woman sings, “I found the world so new.” We can only hope she was right.