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Flume: Australia’s golden child whose shit doesn’t stink and has the ability to piss liquid gold. The man can do no wrong. His 2012 self-titled debut was released to positive reviews and skyrocketed his career in Australia, receiving multiple nominations and voted numerous times in the 2012 Hottest 100. He was everywhere, his combination of trap styled drum beats with his signature wavy, modulated bass lines (now known as future bass) were hard to escape. He was remixing everything he set his eyes on, and the stations would play anything that started with F and rhymed with ‘I-can-make-my-album-straight-from-my-bedroom.’ And in 2016, his sophomore album Skin was released. Of course, this thing would be hyped up. Our fresh faced golden boy had grown up. He now had a shitty moustache and was working with big name players like Lorde, Vince Staples and Beck. Yes, Beck, the revolutionary musician who made such great albums as Odelay. Every pinger-poppin twenty-something year old was ready to get fucking lit in on the d-floor and lose their shit on the muddy summer festival grounds to Skin. The lead single Never Be Like You was plugged to death, so much so that it brainwashed 2.2million people to vote for it for the Hottest 100 in 2016. It won, because that’s how brainwashing works. Skin also won a number of ARIAs including Album of the Year and the Grammy’s decided to give him an award for Best Dance/Electronic Album. I never really liked the ARIAs or the Grammys anyway. But was it worth the hype?
Skin begins with Helix, a slow electronic opener that builds tension with heavy synthesised chords. The synth is ominous and sounds like something out of Stranger Things. A female backing melody is mixed over, lessening the dread; it sounds really nice. The song continues to build until the future bass climax that Flume has perfected by this point. Deep kick drums and hi-hats rattle against the modulated synth melodies but the bass notes punch through and destroy my ears. It’s not a bad opener, it’s exactly what you’d expect from Flume. The song transitions into the lead single, Never Be Like You. It’s an odd transition from the blasting bass to the twinkling synth melodies. It’s a paint by numbers Flume track: sweet synth melody, chilled vocal line — this time provided by Kai — that transitions into a wavy, bass infused chorus line that sounds almost out of time. Flume’s charm is that he always sounds behind the beat, that’s his trademark. You can even envision Flume turning the knob as the bass drops in the chorus. I guess that’s the same as hearing an accidental muted note in a guitar solo? Maybe? The lead single is boring, and I don’t understand why it was awarded top spot on the Hottest 100. Probably because of it’s high frequency of airtime, but I digress. It’s a Flume song, but he doesn’t play front and centre like he did in previous songs like Holdin On. Really, it’s Kai’s lyrics and melody that stand out, not Flume.
Lose It follows on the album, beginning with a siren-like synth melody that leads into a verse by Vic Mensa. The synth drones in the background with the occasional single piano notes breaking through. The chorus is another wavy bass playground, but this time the instrumentation sounds as if it’s working harmoniously, even if the melodies sound chaotic. More electronics layer upon the bass, adding different rhythms until the wavy synths become syncopated against the other rhythms. It’s effective and creates what is probably my favourite track on the album. The fourth track, Numb & Getting Colder, is another standout; the rhythms are broken up with smashing drum beats and the experimental noises playing against KUCKA’s sweet vocal melody are impressive.
Wall Fuck, the sixth track, took a while to get used to. It’s the most experimental on the album, and for that reason I gave it a few more listens than I usually would. The repetitive vocal mixing becomes old real quick, but it’s broken up against over-droned-out bass melodies that sound as if they’ve been mixed to the breaking point of distortion. The beauty in the track is when solid synth and bass melodies sneak in and give the track some grounding. The following song, Pika, is where my praise for the album ends. It’s a two-minute interlude that layers beautiful, sporadic electronic notes, almost like an ode to 80s synthesised soundtracks.
Smoke & Retribution is a bland and predictable single which is unfortunate for the Vince Staples feature. You Know, featuring Allan Kingdom and Raekwon, feels weak in production compared to the purely instrumental tracks Flume produces. Same can be said for the rest of the album where Flume’s tracks feature generic artists who you’ve probably heard from other electronic tracks in da club. Closing song, Tiny Cities featuring Beck, is one of the worst things Beck has ever done. His vocal melody conjures up nightmares of Owl City’s Fireflies. Flume’s drop isn’t anything new but feels out of place against Beck’s vocals. Beck was not the right choice here. It’s an odd track, and a bad way to end the album.
I do not understand how this album was praised so highly and I do not understand how this album won Album of the Year at the ARIAS and was given a Grammy. There’s a handful of songs here that I’d listen to again, most notably Lose It and Wall Fuck, the former being the only unique track with a featured artist. Flume is at his best when he’s going out on a limb and trying experimental melodies and rhythms within electronic music. He plays second best when he features artists on his tracks, and most of the time they are just throw away singles. Isn’t the advantage of electronic music to try new things that cannot be done as easily with live instrumentation? Yet, Skin highlights a restrained Flume who can show true promise with his experimental material, but plays it safe in his big singles. But I guess he’s the one winning out of that situation, his singles did something right for 2.2million people.
Flume’s Skin was not worth the hype. Really, it wasn’t.
After the Hype is a weekly series where I listen to an album after the hype dies down and give my general thoughts, sometimes a little whinge. It’s ok to disagree.