Harley Edward Streten – AKA Flume – may be one of the most powerful names in the electronic music world right now, but there’s a refreshing, almost self-deprecating honesty and introversion to the cereal-box-beatmaker turned Coachella showstopper. Even as worldwide EDM honchos like Zedd and Diplo spar over the former’s “fake Flume drops”, Streten remains efficaciously veiled and down-to-earth. It’s his forward-thinking production alone that lights his way to international success and attracts hordes of industry trailblazers like moths to a flame. If you pull back and survey the bigger picture, his rampant upswing to the top of tastemaker’s lists isn’t that surprising: why navigate through the fickle fame game when everyone else is using your material as a compass in the first place?
Upon reflection, Flume’s game-changing 2012 debut LP was incredibly easy to swallow; it was fluid, friendly and insanely accessible. His long-awaited sophomore LP ‘Skin’ definitely doesn’t follow the same blueprint. It’s a genuinely brash and erratic sixteen-track collage of picked-and-pulled influences and genres. In fact, it’s hard to imagine that Streten adhered to any sort of pre-meditated trajectory for ‘Skin’. Although there seems to be hints of strategy within the interplay of digestible pop anthems and experimental digressions, the album doesn’t necessarily translate as a guided, holistic experience. Instead, it feels as if ‘Skin’ is a beguiling glimpse into a mad scientist’s unkept laboratory, where skeletons of formulaic electronic hits have been individually melted down, re-framed and shaped into something only Flume would (or could) have ever come up with in the first place. ‘Skin’ is mercurial, ambitious and unrestrained. Thankfully, it all works in his favour; lifting the immutable boundaries of expectation and cohesion has rendered this scattered sonic experience all the more compelling.
…Flume is no longer Australia’s golden EDM flagbearer. He’s an internationally-renowned artist in serious demand, and it’s not just the shiny A-list tracklist on ‘Skin’ that reflects his growth.
It’s a testament to Streten’s rise to international fame that locals like Moon Holiday or Jezzabell Doran have been swapped out for rising electronic pop stars like AlunaGeorge or MNDR and hip hop heavyweights like Vic Mensa and Vince Staples. He’s still sure to honour his roots – repeat appearances from buzzed-about Perth singer-songwriter Kučka prove his allegiance to his formative days down under – but Flume is no longer Australia’s golden EDM flagbearer. He’s an internationally-renowned artist in serious demand, and it’s not just the shiny A-list tracklist that reflects his growth.
In nearly every instance on ‘Skin’, Streten’s Midas touch remains the real MVP. On “Lose It”, Mensa is typically spritely – he spits out that addictive falsetto hook with compelling charisma – but the song largely succeeds thanks to its jarring, drunken beat and radioactive malfunctioning-alarm-style hook. Little Dragon‘s tender vocal on “Take A Chance” fits like the final piece in an elaborate puzzle, but the real magic lies in those scintillating coos and an out-of-this-world drop. “Innocence” could have been a middle-of-the-road album filler cut for AlunaGeorge, but thanks to Streten’s otherworldly galaxy of creepy clicks and obscure metallic effects, it’s a haunting exercise in masterful restraint. Star power is certainly impressive on paper, but in Flume’s world, a feature vocalist is often relegated to a supporting role.
With that in mind, it makes a lot of sense that some of ‘Skin”s most formidable moments are found in Streten’s individual efforts. “3” subtly harks back to old Flume melted into the choppy despondence of SBTRKT, gravitating effortlessly around a simple repeated falsetto line and apocalyptic synth battles. “When Everything Was New” looks to the classic trope of sampling the background chatter of children, but because the slow build is so transportive and nostalgic – ala Washed Out or Bibio – it doesn’t feel derivative or indulgent. In fact, it’s a nice moment of tranquil introspection in between the barrages of dimension-shattering drops. On “Free”, frenetic synth stabs race to a seismic breakdown like razor sharp icicles, melting away instantly for a gritty, slightly uncharacteristic shoegaze-inspired drop. Amidst the chaos, Streten’s fearless sonic juggling and progress as a producer shines through.
‘Skin’ is neither a pandering adherence to expectations or a hackneyed attempt at fan service; rather, it’s a genre-blending, headphone-primed tour through the bustling mind of a young producer at the fore of modern electronic music.
Admittedly, at times, Streten’s most abstract cuts delve so far into synthetic deviation that the experience begins to show worrying symptoms of shedding that original humanistic accessibility or appeal. Instrumental track “Wall Fuck” is his attempt to encapsulate “the sound of the fabric of the universe tearing”; metallic synth lines catapult headfirst into a rapid river of steely beats and despondent samples. When the track was released as a free download a couple of months ago, the response was relatively mixed; for a lot of fans, “Wall Fuck” was more of a “Mind Fuck”. Flume had dropped a track with little to no pop sensibility or absorbing wide appeal, opting to grip the hand of his global audience and ease them into unfamiliar terrain. However, within the wider context of ‘Skin’, “Wall Fuck” makes perfect sense. Sandwiched between the brilliant pre-release Tove Lo collaboration “Say It” and the sprightly interlude “Pika”, Streten does strike that necessary equilibrium between organic and synthetic, buying himself ample room to run wild.
‘Skin’ is neither a pandering adherence to expectations or a hackneyed attempt at fan service; rather, it’s a genre blending, headphone-primed tour through the bustling mind of a young producer at the forefront of modern electronic music. Streten may have been careful to bolster his deck with a handful of radio-ready drawcards, but compelling experimental intent bubbles over and pours out of nearly every track. He errs a little bit too close to throwing ‘Skin’ into disarray at times, but there’s not a moment where the scales tip dangerously out of balance. The pressure was immense, but Flume came out on top.