Album Review of Skin by Flume.
Release Date: May 27, 2016
Record label: Mom + Pop Music
Genre(s): Pop, Electronic, Garage, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Club/Dance, Indie Electronic, Dubstep, EDM, Left-Field Pop
The four years between Flume's stylish self-titled debut and its follow-up were long enough that Harley Streten racked up imitators almost as quickly as expectations for what he'd do next. With Skin, he sets himself apart from the former and exceeds the latter, uncovering more sides and bringing more focus to his fusion of dance, pop, hip-hop, and R&B. A cadre of well-chosen, equally genre-hopping collaborators helps him do this with surprisingly artful results: Kai's graceful vocals on "Never Be Like You" equal Streten's beats without distracting from them, while Tove Lo brings some of her sexy edge to "Say It" (and both songs underscore that dance/pop hybrids don't have to sink to both genres' lowest common denominators).
On March 21st, Diplo started a minor twitter blaze by calling out Zedd and his “fake flume drop” on the M&Ms-sponsored cover of Willy Wonka classic “The Candy Man”. While deadmau5 also decided to chime in (of course), Australia’s Harley Edward Streten (bka Flume) wisely steered clear of the drama and sensationalist headlines. In an era when EDM stardom can be as close as a light-up mask, clever anonymous alias, and management-directed collaborations, Flume has continually avoided the gimmicks and concentrated on a production palette that festival-goers crave and Billboard Award recipients are looking to hijack.
More than any other high-profile release since the new dawn of crossover EDM, Flume's Skin—a 16-track odyssey of drops, booms, and well-crafted bliss—reflects the state and times of the genre. Half of the material is purely commercial, with Flume looking to score his own “Wake Me Up,” “Lean On,” or “Latch,” while the other half buzzes with fascinating, insular experiments. Considering its bob and weave between dance pop and disorienting noise, Skin ultimately doesn't carve out a discernable identity for the 24 year-old DJ, but it offers compelling looks into what this identity could be.
The universe opened quickly for Flume, the 24-year-old Australian DJ/producer born Harley Edward Streten: his debut album topped the ARIA charts, Lorde and Disclosure enlisted him for remixes, and mud-caked crowds have strained to glimpse him at Coachella and Lollapalooza. And with that rise, he’s become something of a dance music Rorschach test: either he’s posited as mainstream electropop’s next great hope, or he deepens the frowns of those fatigued by rave culture ubiquity and personifies all that is frivolous about it. (The Guardian recently brushed him aside with, “Oh, great! Just what the world has been waiting for,” a pessimism that leans toward the Woody Allen school of astronomy.
On his self-titled 2012 debut, Australian producer Harley Streten (a.k.a. Flume) came off as an EDM artist with a pop side, mixing shades of R&B into his relaxed tracks. His follow-up is more aggressive (check the bass-driven banger "Wall Fuck"). Layered, abrasive electronics set a grimy backdrop for MC guest spots by Vince Staples and Raekwon, and even when Flume angles for the radio, with female vocals from breathy Canadian Kai and dirty-talking Swede Tove Lo, his beats slam and skitter.
“Oh, great! Just what the world has been waiting for,” runs the cynical first response to this collaboration-heavy Australian dance package, “Disclosure from Down Under”. But while the multimillion Vevo views of F word-garnished electro power ballad Never Be Like You featuring Kai suggest the advent of a trance Eamon, Flume (the aqueous altar ego of Sydney bedroom boffin Harley Edward Streten) actually covers a wider musical waterfront than he needs to. Distinguished guests – UK nearly siren AlunaGeorge, rapper Vince Staples – are ushered respectfully through a series of viable electronic hinterlands, where a couple of them, notably perennial cameo supplier Little Dragon and Wu Tang vet Raekwon, manage to put down roots in actual songs.
One listen to “Say It,” the bright, supremely poppy Tove Lo collaboration from Flume’s second album, makes it clear the Australian producer is not content to repeat the intimately chill, layered electronic pastiche of his successful debut. “Skin” is more ambitious and cinematic, with creative use of space and repetition. Flume’s most comfortable conjuring lush, ascending beats for women vocalists; Lo, MNDR, Kai, Aluna Francis, and Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano all shine on the album’s most arresting tracks.
Flume’s joined by a star cast of collaborators on his second album Skin - yet somehow he still manages to make the record about his own sound. After a debut, with low-key features, that showcased his distinct production style he’s roped in big name vocalists for the follow-up. Though Flume’s guests are also familiar - check the credits on Kaytranada’s excellent 99.9% and you’ll see a very similar list- Little Dragon, AlunaGeorge and Vic Mensa all double up.
Twenty-four-year-old Australian wunderkind Harley Streten has taken a step backward to push forward and cross over on his atmospheric second LP. Where his self-titled debut inflected J Dilla and underground, alt-soul into his electro-pop, Skin goes Technicolor and bigger, effectively standing on the shoulders of Disclosure and giant stars including Skrillex, Diplo, and album collaborator/reinventor Beck ("Tiny Cities"). Showing capability in whatever he chooses, Flume can go downtempo with AlunaGeorge ("Innocence"), uptempo with some edge ("Smoke & Retribution," featuring Vince Staples, or Vic Mensa-assisted "Lose It"), and full-on runaway smash ("Never Be Like You" with Kai on vocals.) (7pm, HomeAway stage) .
The first thing I noticed about Skin, the sophomore release from Australian electronic artist Flume, was its eclectic supporting cast. You’ve got pop stars like Tove Lo (actually, she might be the only “star” credited here, but I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to these singers I’ve never heard of before) career feature artists like Kai and Aluna “The Main Reason Why That One Disclosure Track Was Good” George, and rising hip-hop stars like Vince Staples, Vic Mensa, and…wait, is that Allan Kingdom? On the same track as most-assuredly-not-rising star Raekwon? That’s a little surprising—hold up, what’s Beck doing here? The logical question to ask at this point is: how can Flume take these musicians from such wildly different backgrounds and put them together into something coherent? The short answer is that he can’t. Or maybe he can, but he doesn’t display that particular talent on Skin.