Flume Stretched Thin On ‘Skin’

Australian beat-maker Flume whips up a potent mixture of atmospheric dance music, hip-hop and dub-step on his new album, "Skin."

Having risen to the top of the Australian charts with 2012’s self-titled Flume, (beating out One Direction to get there) Harley Streten’s presence in the U.S. hasn’t extended much beyond his flip of Lorde’s “Tennis Courts” and his viral Disclosure remix. On his newest release, Skin, Flume beefs up his tracks with radio-ready guest spots from rising stars like Vic Mensa, Vince Staples, and EDM mainstay AlunaGeorge. Notably absent on Skin, however, is longtime collaborator Chet Faker. In the past, Faker has been a key component in Flume’s more mellow, R&B-influenced work, a sound from which Flume seems to be distancing himself.

Skin is loaded with just over an hour of festival-ready bangers, but by the end, the blaring synths and wobbly bass start to get lost in the mix. The highlights are sure to be pre-game staples for years to come, but mired in a few mediocre and directionless album cuts, Skin gets stretched thin over its run time.

The first thing that becomes apparent from the start of the album is the size of Flume’s songs. His signature sound is HUGE, with sweeping synth pads that break out into maximalist dub-step-rumblers. Sometimes audiophiles like to say that an album is “meant for headphones” and close, careful listening. This is not one of those albums. If anything, its meant for huge stages or maxed-out car speakers. A song like “Helix,” for example, would be at its best while barreling down the freeway on the way to a house party. The tracks all bring a kind of late-night thrill, mirroring the sultry energy of a sweaty club or a big tent set at SXSW.

On the lead single, “Never Be Like You (feat. Kai),” Flume palette-swaps an otherwise vanilla pop track with warbled electronics and trap hi-hats, pushing the chorus to a soaring climax. This is a recurring theme across Skin’s 16 tracks: reimagining pop, hip-hop, and r&b staples as EDM speaker-blowers. “Lose It (feat. Vic Mensa)” showcases Mensa for two verses before switching gears into a hip-hop banger. Similarly, “Smoke and Retribution” (feat. Vince Staples & Kučka)” takes Vince Staples high-pitched hype rap, and cushions it with spacious electronics. The track benefits from Staple’s aggressive vocals, pairing Flume’s energetic production with impassioned delivery on lines like, “I know they’ll never understand, but I don’t give a fuck/Lift your hands up high before I stick you up.”

Album highlight “Wall Fuck” channels more avant-garde tendencies, sounding like it might have been a Yeezus bonus track. The distorted bass hits and prickly vocal samples bounce back and forth before Flume does his thing, and drops the bass harder than Kanye dropped Tidal. The track sticks because of its audacity; Flume has chops beyond predictable formulas, if only they were on display more on this record.

Beyond the singles, the song structures become repetitive, and the formula of quiet keyboard intros into huge breakdowns begins to get stale. The final 5 tracks don’t bring anything new to the table, and some of the back end songs like, “Innocence (feat. AlunaGeorge)” and “Free” contribute little aside from extending the album’s runtime. It’s apparent that Flume is comfortable working within his specific style, but the wow-factor of the first few songs begins to fade after the umpteenth electronic freak out.

On Skin, most of the songs bump as stand-alone singles, but it can be tiring to ride the rollercoaster to the top and back, over and over again. Flume has managed to sneak in the backdoor of the EDM festival circuit at the ripe age of 24, but his specific brand of dance music has yet to ferment into a refined brew. The high points on this record are spectacular, but as a whole it feels like guest star Beck’s auto-tuned refrain on the final song, “It was never perfect, it was never meant to last.”

Grade: B