Flume is both the alias of future bass producer, Harley Streten, and the name of one of Bon Iver’s most well known indie rock tracks. The contrast between the two is so much of what the former’s sophomore album, Skin, is based upon. It’s no coincidence that the album is called Skin either. In fact, all facets of the LP and Streten’s holistic vision as a musician seem to revolve around this pitting of the organic with the orchestrated.
A self-titled debut LP was what brought the name Flume to the world. The most curious part about it was its trickle down and then explosion into the mainstream. Appealing to both what is classified as mainstream and underground audiences is no easy feat — maybe that’s why he struggled at first with the notion of turning these sonic slices into live shows that would eventually close out main stages.
Balance, however, has proven key to Flume’s success. In fact, one could even go as far to say that balance is what initially caused this success. Skin is yet another example of this in the works, albeit much a more experimental one. His self-titled debut was safer, more digestible, and easier on the ears. Skin is coming four years after this and it’s blatant that Flume has pushed this balance to its near breaking point.
Mixed in between chart-topping hits such as “Never Be Like You,” and moments of rawness a la “Pika,” are the jarring and often unfamiliar sounds of Flume’s experimental work. Tracks such as “Helix,” “Wall Fuck,” and “Free” have been manipulated, distorted, and stretched so much that their soundscapes are barely even discernible any longer. The album as a whole reads quite like a tale of man versus the machine.
Another notable aspect is that Skin comes overflowing with collaborations: a whopping 10 of the 16 songs feature another musician in the track title. Particularly noteworthy songs here come from Vince Staples & Kucka on “Smoke & Retribution,” Vic Mensa on “Lose It,” and Little Dragon on “Take A Chance” — all artists who notably exist within the hip hop or trip hop spaces.
Amidst all these collaborations, however, it’s the experimental tracks that truly standout. It’s easy to hear the struggle Flume had in writing his sophomore album but also clear to see the lengths in which he’s willing to push himself to complete it. There is perhaps no better demonstration of this than in “3,” a song which includes Flume’s own vocals.
In one of Flume’s Instagram clip previews, he noted that as a concept, “When Everything Was New” is representative of how trivial things are as a child, and how much more mundane they become upon growing up. Is this how Flume has felt over the past four years, faced with the pressure of making music for himself? It’s possible. To Flume’s — and his listener’s — delight, Skin is complete. Quite the opposite of fluid, unexpected in parts, and unabashedly eclectic, Flume has taken it upon himself to showcase that no vocal sample, even his own, is too far fetched and that any sound, no matter is mechanic ugliness, can be manipulated to its limits and still find its place in a song.