Harley Streten had a lot of pressure to establish a definitive voice on his latest album in an era when kids are coming up with fake names and producing their own music on their laptops.
Streten, an Australian electronic musician and producer known as Flume, became an international phenomenon after the release of his debut self-titled album in 2012. After touring for four years, Flume returned to the scene with his innovative and beautifully produced sophomore effort “Skin” that doesn’t disappoint.
“Skin” further develops a firm sonic identity for the musician, differentiating him from competitors like Diplo and Zedd in an industry increasingly saturated with self-produced electronic music. Flume embraces undiscovered sounds and integrates them into balanced yet surreal soundscapes, and nowhere does he do this better than with “Skin.”
The first track, “Helix,” sets a moody tone befitting the rest of the album with a familiar, old-school Flume remix sound, dappled with more experimental melodies and a dizzyingly distorted bass pad. Of the album’s five other instrumental pieces, “Wall Fuck” is another standout, agitated and voiceless. Its intense drum beats build to an intoxicating electronic crescendo, producing a deeply introspective effect that Flume said he wanted to resemble the “fabric of the universe tearing.”
From the shimmering and raw “Pika” to the eclectic and claustrophobic “3,” the remaining instrumental songs on the album feel more alien than anything else Flume has created, with foreign soundscapes tantalizing the senses, bringing the listener to ethereal underwater caverns and distant moons.
Despite the extensive creative liberties taken with the album’s unconventional sound design, these new sounds strike a rare and intoxicating balance between experimental and organic that works surprisingly well.
“Skin” also features many well-known collaborators from a range of genres, including artists like Tove Lo, Vic Mensa, Little Dragon, Beck and AlunaGeorge. Their contributions to the album are fresh and appropriate, expanding Flume’s style instead of diluting or overpowering it.
The album’s second track and first prerelease single “Never Be Like You,” featuring Kai, topped charts when it was released in January because of its intimate synth progressions and deep bass elements. The piece’s harsher ambience plays well with vulnerable lyrics like “I would give anything to change, this fickle minded heart that loves fake shiny things / Now I fucked up and I’m missing you.”
Newer vocal pieces on the album also have pop-hit potential that will appeal to Flume’s more mainstream fan base. In “Say It,” Flume complements Tove Lo’s crooning with distinct chord progressions to create an infectious, radio-friendly piece.
Meanwhile, rapper Vic Mensa’s eccentric rhymes on “Lose It” highlight the album’s hip-hop influences. “Lose it,” along with the rap-dominated “You Know,” featuring Allan Kingdom and Raekwon, are some of the stronger tracks on “Skin” and together draw a stark yet fresh contrast with the other vocal pieces.
The album’s last and arguably best song “Tiny Cities” features guest vocalist Beck providing dreamy vocals against a thudding background. As Beck sings about lost love, the track builds up to a climax that rounds out the album by effectively overlapping breathless romance with electrifying synths in a pleasant way that feels decidedly unique.
Despite playing with a larger variety of styles than in his previous album, Flume manages to maintain and mature upon the same head-bobbing, mellow vibe that led to the rise of his initial popularity. One of the album’s biggest strengths is its cohesiveness, thanks to a consistent atmospheric feel. Flume balances a tight mix of impressive, experimental sound designs that serve to carve out insular identities for each song without alienating the listener.
Sixty minutes and 16 tracks of music on “Skin” strike a perfect balance between mainstream and underground, familiar and experimental, brutal and vulnerable. The chaotically beautiful blend of styles and sounds produce a slew of endless listening possibilities – and as for Flume, from here his career possibilities seem to be endless as well.