It’s been four years since Harley Streten, better known by his producer alias, Flume, dropped his self-titled debut release to universal acclaim. The Australian electronic musician took a long break between albums, but he finally hinted last year that a new record was in the works. The highly anticipated sophomore LP, titled Skin, dropped earlier today and sees the innovative producer delivering sixteen stellar tracks and a full hour of new music.
Fans waited patiently for new material to surface, and expectations of Skin have been feverishly high. Luckily for us, Streten delivers the goods with his sophomore effort, expanding on the unique style he cultivated on his first album while maturing his signature sound.
“Helix” serves as a moody introduction to Skin, opening with a distorted, droning bass pad and a cinematic flute melody, as Flume’s trademark detuned arpeggios and loosely timed drum hits act as a fitting start to the album. Up next is the previously heard “Never Be Like You,” an ethereal pop track featuring Kai that served as one of the earliest tastes of new material ahead of the album’s release.
Skin features a number of collaborators, with guests like Tove Lo, Beck, Vic Mensa, AlunaGeorge, Little Dragon and more featuring on various cuts throughout the album. On “Say It,” Streten compliments pop singer Tove Lo’s voice with lush chord progressions and off-kilter rhythms as the pair oozes infectious choruses fit for the pop charts. In the ensuing instrumental driven interlude, the Aussie producer mutates Lo’s recognizable humming into a synthesized lead that plays out an emotive melody.
“Smoke and Retribution” with Vince Staples and Kučka serves as a highlight of the album, with its serene blend of deep synth layers, slow riding grooves and terraced vocal delivery ranging from soft crooning to flowing raps. “Numb and Getting Colder” is another solid effort, as it opens with a passage of lo-fi noise as a melody struggles to break through, before the crack of Flume’s characteristic drums flesh out a broken beat. Kučka’s soothing vocals soon take the lead, complimenting a series of R&B flavored chords that lend an irresistible charm to the song.
Hip hop influence weighs heavily on Skin, and rapper Vic Mensa contributes his spastic rhymes on “Lose It.” “You Know” featuring Allan Kingdom and Raekwon is another rap dominated song, contrasting the more traditional vocal cuts that comprise the majority of Skin‘s collaborations.
“Take A Chance” features Swedish electronic band Little Dragon and opens with moody, atmospheric pads and mellow vocal delivery, slowly building up to blip-y, offbeat future bass drops. Flume’s mastery of chilled out, head nodding productions is used effectively throughout the album, lending a sense of cohesion to its varied selection of tracks.
English electronic duo AlunaGeorge appear on “Innocence,” a sprawling six minute epic complete with ghostly vocals, crackly ambience and hip hop influenced grooves. Elsewhere on the disc, “Like Water” is another soaring electronic anthem, with assistance from singer MNDR, whose voice brightens the darker production elements that dominate the track. There’s no shortage of future bass tunes on Skin, but Streten manages to breathe memorable identities into each of his productions to keep the album sounding fresh.
Skin‘s more pop oriented tunes are punctuated by their fair share of experimental passages, such as the industrial tinged “Wall Fuck,” as Flume carves out a grungy future bass track bouncing between distortion saturated beats and a glitchy vocal sample. “Pika” and “When Everything Was New” serve as percussion free melodic interludes, while “Free” plays like a test of endurance with beautiful synth passages offset by grating rhythms and noisy keyboard solos. “3,” meanwhile, sees the producer warping samples of his own voice against a backdrop of wobbly synth splashes and rolling beats. These more risky moments give Skin a challenging edge, rounding out its vocal driven selections.
“Tiny Cities” serves as both the culmination to Flume’s sophomore effort and its most high profile collaboration, featuring renowned singer-songwriter Beck. Massive kicks reverberate in the distance as shimmering synth chords shine beneath Beck’s distinctive vocal hooks, ushering in a breathtaking end to the emotive, boundary pushing journey encapsulated within the LP’s hour long duration.
Flume represents a rare breed of producers in contemporary mainstream electronic music, with a willingness to embrace undiscovered sounds and ignore the trends of the moment in favor of carving out a unique niche in an overpopulated landscape of digital music makers. On Skin, Streten manages to pull off that rare feat of forging a unique, recognizable sound of his own, mastering the direction he first explored on his debut album.
With a penchant for noisy sound design and experimental production values, Flume balances his accessible melodies and pop oriented vocal numbers with moments that are equally as challenging, resulting in a highly cerebral take on dance music that’s unparalleled by his peers. A single listen through Skin is all the convincing needed to justify the long lapse between albums, and it’s clear the new record is the realization of four years of maturation and growth from one of electronic music’s most celebrated producers.
Flume proves that the wait was worth it for the follow up to his 2012 debut, delivering a breathtaking album that pushes the boundaries of contemporary electronic music. Brimming with an hour of new music, Skin features lush synth work and catchy pop tunes often veiled behind abstract sound design and experimental noise.