Song 293: The Avalanches, “Frontier Psychiatrist” (2000)


When the Avalanches’ record Since I Left You came out in 2000, I don’t think I realized how special it was. I listened to it all the time, and I loved it, but since I didn’t know much about sample-heavy music, I didn’t know what a wonder it was. It’s a mess of samples (Wikipedia claims there are 3,500 of them) assembled into songs that sound nothing like random things thrown together.

Well, that’s not exactly true. “Frontier Psychiatrist” sounds like bits and pieces, but by design. The song is like a hallucination (and the video, in which people lip-sync the various vocal samples on a stage, is like a fever dream by Ed Sullivan). The track’s hook is a man saying “that boy needs therapy,” and its surrounding lines, from “I promised my girlfriend I could play the violin” to “he was white as a sheet” are like fragments from one fucked-up short story.

When I hear Since I Left You today, I am amazed at how cohesive it sounds. I have no idea how anyone can hear 3,500 samples and know where to put them, to make them sound so natural together. People who say DJs, producers and other electronic musicians aren’t artists need to hear Since I Left You, a record with an astounding amount of artistry even in its first minute. I don’t understand how things like this happen, and I think that’s what I like most about it. It’s like magic.


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