Flume. Flume. Flume.
He’s teased, teased & teased some more, but now it has finally arrived. His sophomore LP effort, Skin, a 16-track, hour-long display of mind-bending sound design & appropriately intricate songwriting. It has been four long years since Flume’s self-titled debut album which quickly elevated the Aussie to international superstardom.
But, as they say, the sophomore album is the hardest, especially with a start like his. The 24-year-old Harley Streten brought on board some of the biggest names from pop to hip/hop and everywhere in between for Skin. The feature list includes Kai, Kučka, Vic Mensa, Tove Lo, Vince Staples, Raekwon, AlunaGeorge, Little Dragon & even Beck.
Of 16 tracks, 10 vocal collabs are supplemented by 6 pure instrumentals which vary from downright weird to exactly what we’ve come to expect from Flume. As the album begins, it becomes quickly apparent that Streten has evolved his sound, citing a prevalence of copycats given his prior success, yet it all remains indisputably Flume. The opening track, “Helix,” feels very old-school Flume, and everyone knows its smash-hit successor “Never Be Like You” already. However, his collabs with Vic Mensa (“Lose It”) and Tove Lo (“Say It”), which make early appearances at tracks #3 and #5, respectively, are clearly dialed back from his excessively experimental tendencies riddled throughout the rest of this sophomore effort. His simplified beats back the vocals with just enough presence to make me wonder if they’ll ever end up on US radio despite the high-profile nature of the two.
My personal favorite track lies just between these two records. Titled “Number & Getting Colder,” Kučka’s lofty vocals swell alongside a more minimal production that capitalizes on jovial synths and a powerful, ambient atmosphere. With no “drop” in sight, it feels more akin to an anthemic ballad than a song destined for the airwaves. But, this unique formula is what makes the track so appealing to me.
The next few tracks are where Flume really goes off the rails. Beginning with “Wall Fuck,” which listens more like an experiment than a true song, “Pika” follows with an eery vocal sample and off-kilter, repetitive melody that bounces inescapably among the catacombs of my mind. “Smoke & Retribution,” with Vince Staples and Kučka (again), brings the album back from the paired tangential trip in abrupt fashion. As an early released single, this trio collab doesn’t do terribly much to impress, but it ages well.
“3” bridges the old Flume with the new, at points feeling like we’re back in his debut album before quickly yanking us back to the reality that is behind-the-beat percussion and left-of-field sound schemes. It’s my favorite instrumental from the lot for this reason, although I wish it came just a few ticks later in the listing. Hardly worth a mention, the next piece, “When Everything Was New,” serves its place well as a brief interlude brimming with samples of children playing and water trickling by before diving back into the heart of Skin.
The next quarter of the LP includes some of the most exciting features on the album. “You Know” with Allan Kingdom and Raekwon is an aggressively dark, 3-something minute hip/hop collab that exudes raw power and honesty. Contrasted with the love song that is “Take A Chance,” featuring Little Dragon, I believe that this portion of Skin is the most cohesive. “Innocence” comes next, and is the longest song on the record, landing at over 6-minutes in length. AlunaGeorge shines in this feature, as always, and to be straight up: this song makes me want to fire up a joint and gaze into the sunset, rid of any typical worries.
“Like Water” features MNDR, an American singer/songwriter who I was unfamiliar with up to this point. If you are too, check out one of her most popular songs here. Although this is not the best vocal performance on the LP, by a longshot, “Like Water” gives listeners a breath from this intensely immersive listening experience that is Skin before going into the final two tracks.
The final instrumental in this, Flume’s sophomore album, is simply titled “Free,” and it embodies every sense of the word. The thumping percussion and screaming synths work to a feverish pitch that will indubitably be one of the highlights of Streten’s live show during his upcoming world tour; and then, suddenly, settles into a brief piano respite before leaving us with “Tiny Cities,” featuring the one-and-only Beck.
Beck provides the epitomized closing soundtrack which already makes me want to join arms with my fellow Flume-aficionados at Red Rocks this coming August and sway side-to-side while gazing into what will assuredly be a wonderous array of stage lights & LED fixtures. It’s the 16th and final track, and it very well might be the best one, which is precisely the taste in my mouth that I wanted to be left with upon completion of this 60+ minute journey.
It’s not the best album in the world, but it’s certainly up there, and now I eagerly await the arrival of my limited edition vinyls which are sure to sound even better. After that comes Flume’s expansive North America tour and international tours, which I’ll be sure to catch you at. In the meantime, let’s play that again…