The saying goes that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, yet for Harley Streten, aka Flume, it has caused him some difficulties. In the four years since his internationally successful, and critically acclaimed, self-titled debut, Flume’s signature sound has been at best influential, at worst shamelessly copied.
The question is, how does the 24-year-old Sydneysider make an album that is authentic, yet doesn’t actually sound like himself, because that is what everyone else sounds like now?
The answer is Skin, 16 tracks that are a clear departure from the likes of ‘Holdin On’, something that was a deliberate aim from the outset.
Over an hour long, Skin transitions from hip-hop, to electro pop, to glitchy and atmospheric EDM, and then back again. Amongst the expansive soundscapes and pop hooks, there are dark and grimy moments, yet even at its most abrasive, Skin is never far away from melody.
It is certainly an album the features a lot of features, 10 of the 16 tracks have at least one guest contributor. Big names include Beck, who appears on the truly beautiful album closer ‘Tiny Cities’. Wu Tang Clan’s Raekwon provides some old school hip hop sounds on ‘You Know’, whilst Sweden’s electro pop powerhouse Little Dragon help out on ‘Take A Chance’.
It isn’t all big names, however. Canadian singer and Diplo collaborator Kai sings on the hugely successful first single ‘Never Be Like You’, whilst Swedish singer Tove Lo is beautiful on ‘Say It’.
Perth vocalist KUCKA appears twice, whilst up and coming Californian rapper Vince Staples definitely gives the album a sharper edge on ‘Smoke & Retribution’.
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‘Never Be Like You’ and ‘Say It’ are the most accessible, the former receiving over a million daily streams on Spotify, as well as reaching number one in Australia, and entering the top 50 in the US.
These moments of electro pop are what takes Skin out of the realms of being just a brilliant electronic album, and in to the world conquering force that it is becoming.
Bookending Skin are two distinct highlights. ‘Helix’ opens the album, and provides a great introduction. An ominous low rumble and pan pipe melody builds tension before the song drops out, rebuilding over frantic synth scales before opening up with a dirty beat and a swaggering, almost drunken, melody line.
The opener, as well as ‘Wall F***’ and ‘3’ are evidence of what Flume can do with just a laptop and his imagination.
Album closer ‘Tiny Cities’ features the unmistakeable vocals of Beck, his influence on the track clearly evident. Sounding nothing like the rest of the album, Beck’s layered vocals are truly beautiful, with Flume taking a back step to allow the musical icon to shine. One can only imagine what would happen if Flume produced Beck’s next album.
Perhaps the only downfall of Skin is that it may be too diverse. Those into the slightly more aggressive hip hop moments such as ‘Smoke & Retribution’ may skip past the pop sounds of ‘Say It’ or ‘Never Be Like You.’
Similarly, those discovering Flume via commercial radio may not be completely in love with the minimalistic sounds of ‘Wall f**k’ or ‘3’.
At 16 tracks long, however, there is enough on the album to please everyone. Those who feel that perhaps Flume has strayed too far from what he was four years ago? It seems there are plenty who have been perfecting the ‘Flume Drop’ since then, so there should be plenty of other options out there.
Is it worth the wait? Does it live up to the hype? The answer is a resounding yes. On the strength of ‘Never Be Like You’, ‘Say It’, and ‘Lose It’ alone, this will be an early contender for album of the year.
Skin is out now via Future Classic.