In Shedding Old Sounds Flume Hits His Stride

Australian producer Flume has been gradually making a name for himself over the last seven years. Bursting onto the scene in 2012 with his self titled album and a hit remix of the Disclosure track “You & Me,” Flume eventually followed up with his 2016 effort “Skin.” Chock full of notable features including Little Dragon, Vince Staples, and Raekwon, “Skin” demonstrated the tension that existed in Flume’s sound. Throughout his career, Flume’s aesthetic has teetered between the more left-field sounds of Wonky and UK bass on the one hand and his more pop-friendly, EDM sensibilities on the other. This led to a project where highly sanitized and overproduced EDM anthems such as “Say it,” featuring Tove Lo, occupied a spot in the tracklisting next to the comparatively avante garde “Wall Fuck.” Now, three years after “Skin,” Flume has released his new mixtape, “Hi This Is Flume (Mixtape).” This latest effort dispenses with much of the accessible pop and dance ballads that were found on “Skin,” focusing instead on the more experimental elements of Flume’s sound. Those in search of another “Say It” or “Never Be Like You” are sure to be dissapointed, as Flume’s pop and EDM inclinations are heavily scaled back on this release. Instead, “Hi This Is Flume (Mixtape)” revels in its off-the-wall, bombastic sound, taking listeners from one otherworldly soundscape to the next.

Despite its hefty tracklisting, “Hi This Is Flume” runs a mere 38 minutes, with a great deal of the tracks lasting just under 90 seconds. This format is executed surprisingly well, as the project places great emphasis on linking the sonic motifs of each track through excellent sequencing. Listeners could easily assume the project’s first twenty minutes are a single track.

The mixtape’s second track, “Ecdysis,” is equal parts glitzy and abrasive, as several majestic, high-pitched effects are juxtaposed against warped and modulated basslines. This transitions quickly into “High Beams,” which places an industrial and heavy bassline under grime vocalist slowthai’s aggressive flow. In between verses the track indulges in a whimsical melody coming from what sound like high pitched plucked strings before breaking into another gritty verse.

The song “Jewel” is perhaps one of the best examples of the mixtape’s continuity of sound, as it draws on the melody from “High Beams” while distorting and changing it across the track’s runtime. Initially, the track features a triumphant lead melody alongside hard-hitting but relatively statically sequenced percussion. At the track’s halfway mark, the melody sinks to the bottom of the mix, replaced by a number of distorted vocals which sound like bagpipes. After introducing this new sonic strain, the track swells again, building to a crescendo which is more visceral and satisfying than the track’s first third. Its moments like these that show Flume’s progression and experimentation. The Flume that produced “Skin” might have been content to structure the “Jewel” around its drop at the 40 second mark, a decision which would have made the track far less compelling structurally and instrumentally.

Consistently left-field and eccentric instrumental selections are part of what keep the tracks on “Hi This Is Flume” exciting. Much of the impact of “Jewel” came in great part from its “bagpipe” distortion. The interlude which follows is similarly playful, drawing on a slow, pitched down vocal sample to pleasantly ground listeners before thrusting them into the fray again with Flume’s remix of UK Bass producer and vocalist SOPHIE’s track “Is It Cold In The Water?” The song is defined by chilly synth chords that are punctuated by rapid bursts of high hats and other heavy percussion.

The album reaches its peak of in-your-face noise the tracks “Voices” and “MUD.” The former appears somewhat conflicted, as a sweet vocal lead from SOPHIE battles against rapid slamming noises and distorted bass for supremacy in the mix. Just as an organ passage at the end of the track seems to signal the conflict’s resolution, the beginning of “MUD” picks up the same melodic theme but throws a wrench in it, resulting in a storm of glitchy and dissonant sounds which pause momentarily before breaking into the next track. While I find “MUD” and “Voices” to be successful precisely because of their aggression, many listeners may find some of the high pitched sounds and tin-like percussion to be grating and unpleasant. “Hi This Is Flume” remains  engaging across its runtime because of the mixtape’s frenetic changes in sonic direction. Unlike past records, listeners in search of a consistent, pleasant aesthetic should keep looking.

“Hi This Is Flume” is the mixtape I never thought I’d hear from Flume. Bold and experimental, the Australian producer’s most recent effort is a mind bending assault on your senses. Despite its relatively brief runtime, listeners may feel compelled to take a deep breath at the project’s conclusion. Equal parts melodic and jarring, serene and abrasive; “Hi This Is Flume” is sure to take most listeners, even fans of Flume’s previous material, out of their comfort zones. On this most recent release, Flume has finally created something I find engaging from front to back, an album that flows effortlessly through its tracklisting while assaulting listener’s ears from all angles. It’s not for the faint of heart, but those looking for a well-produced change of pace should look no further than the sonic rollercoaster that is “Hi This Is Flume (Mixtape).”

Featured image courtesy of wikipedia.org

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