In November 2012, Australia and the world were exposed to a young 20-year-old bedroom producer named Harley Streten, making music under the banner of Flume.
An Australian album of the year award, nonstop radio play and world tours that seemed to lead into the next one, Flume became one of the biggest names in electronic music world-wide in just a few years. It was a quirky brand of music that had yet to break the seal of the mainstream charts, but the album managed to define much of the electronic music that has come out since.
Many of the sounds Harley brought with him had already been rigorously explored in the less accessible scenes and perfected by artists before him. Interestingly enough, Harley even sites in a recent interview with Triple J that he based the entire Flume project around the sounds of mysterious British producer Jai Paul, with a heavy influence from the track ‘Zodiac Shit’ by Flying Lotus.
As such, against the backdrop of around three and a half years of ‘Flume, where r tha banger$?’ and ‘I cntw8 any longer Flerm, m8!!’ Harley dropped his highly anticipated sophomore record Skin to fan boys and girls alike on the 27th May.
The album as a whole pays close attention to contrasting elements and sound design, but usually maintains an intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-outro song structure.
Flume continues to be an advocate for space within his music. He consistently strips tracks of drums and elects to use an alternative element to drive the track, only to turn to heavy percussion and his notorious focus on the low-end.
‘Helix’ kicks the album off, a track that features filtered synths, a pan flute and arpeggios building to ‘the drop’. Whilst being a decent track and being produced well, it drags on and changes direction so much that the three and a half minute opener feels a lot longer and leaves me more confused than establishing any sort of mood.
Despite stumbling with the intro, the 2nd track ‘Never be Like You’ featuring Canadian singer Kai, gives stability and direction. The tune is incredibly memorable and easily one of the more radio-ready tracks on the album thanks to Kai’s personal and relatable vocals.
At times, the album experiments with adventurous song structures and Harley pulls it off with great flair. ‘Numb & Getting Colder’ shows a fantastic sonic relationship between KUČKA’s sweet vocals and Flume’s production, journeying the listener between grainy high hats, hollow percussion and distant synths.
KUČKA and Harley also continue this trend when Long Beach rapper Vince Staples lends a hand on ‘Smoke & Retribution’. This was the second taste from Skin and Vince’s energetic verses combined with KUČKA’s calls makes for an interesting clash of styles and a cut where Flume get’s it right.
The other hip-hop features, however, do not fair as well. Vic Mensa’s feature on ‘Lose it’, whilst not being the worst track on the album and although bringing his usual energy to the track, becomes completely obnoxious. The calls of “Loooooorve Sick” as the binding vocal in the chorus, becomes far too distracting.
More notably, the track ‘You Know’, featuring Alan Kingdom and Wu Tang’s Raekwon, begins with a sweet RnB-flavoured vocal line, but the subject matter of the song, especially regarding Raekwon’s verses, couldn’t be further out of sync with the rest of the album. Whilst the track is decent and again, not lacking in production skill, it’s difficult to adjust to a track with lines such as, “…bring him to me now, but keep him alive” when much of the subject matter of the rest of the album deals with more emotional and personable issues.
In an attempt to also create a more cinematic and atmospheric experience, many of the tracks that appear on the record are quite long, which was not the case on his debut. Whilst some tracks benefit from length, some get lost and fall into repetition, such as ‘Innocence’ featuring AlunaGeorge.
The closing track of the album ‘Tiny Cities’ sees Flume bring on Beck, a track that I was looking forward to mainly due to the obscurity of the collaboration. The intro oozes with a feeling reminiscent of a Toto vocal line then falls into a fairly hypnotizing and subtle drop; another moment where Harley’s sound-design skills and musicianship fall in line.
Harley could’ve repeated the success that saw him slow-burn his way to festivals around the world, but opted for further obscurity. Upon listening to the album, however, It’s clear that Flume hasn’t strayed too far from what defines his sound, but there is certainly a more mature, professional and intricate sound design that upholds portions of the record.
It's inevitably the imbalance of sound design and musicality on the other half of the record that falters the movement of Skin.
Darcy Coombs hides behind his computer as the beat scribe for his band Otious. You'll find him voicing his opinions in 'Read'. He also hasn't grown a millimetre since he was 14.