Flume – Flume
There is not much left to say about the debut LP from Flume that has not already been said. You already know this is a good album. A great album. Yes: one of the albums of the year. You know this because every now and again, an album comes along with that unique ability to galvanise divergent genre-heads who can’t help but acknowledge when something is just fucking cool. And this album is fucking cool.
Harley Streten is a 21-year-old Sydney-sider who produces the sort of assured, subtle and evocative music that frustratingly belies his years. I mean, how can someone so young know so clearly what their sound is all about? You have already heard the big tracks from this album plenty of times – Holdin On is smashing its way through national airwaves; Sleepless was an instant classic and has been kicking around for over year, yet still glistens here with its arpeggiated chords and looping vocal samples. But there is so much more to be discovered with this release.
So what is Flume? Old school Hip Hop? Trip hop? Glitch hop? Nu Disco? Future techno? Flume-step? Yes, there is a bit of all of that and a touch more. While he is hard to pigeonhole, there is still plenty that defines the Flume sound. There is a considered restraint to his use of the percussive pallet. It seems Flume instinctively knows when to drop a tightly quantized high hat, a shuffling off-kilter snare, or not use a beat it all. It is often the space between the sonics that gives so many of Flume’s tracks that distinctive haunting quality.
But more than anything, it is the strong vocal thread running through this album that ties it all together. From the many collaborations to the consistent use of sampling, the recurring vocal elements create an organic immediacy to his music that gets under your skin. His ability to twist and shape vocal samples up and down octaves creates a unifying instrument from the human voice box that is both playful and lingering.
There are tracks on this album that would make many more seasoned produced swell with pride. There are hints of Massive Attack in tracks like Star Eyes and Ezra, a touch of James Blake in Stay Close, and even a nostalgic throwback to that inimitable sample-based mastery of The Avalanches in Warm Thoughts. The swirling synth madness that travels under his collaboration with T Shirt, On Top, is a grinding ghetto beat that would make Pharrell or Kanye proud.
The collaborations add depth to the album, allowing Flume to more fully flesh out his melodic ideas. His collaboration with Alex War, Insane, delivers a melancholic slice of nu-disco gold. Bring You Down, a collaboration with George Maple (a girl, not a boy), brings a multi-layered female vocal that builds in beauty to an exultant stadium-worthy climax. And Left Alone with Chet Faker is, well, just about the perfect example of the union of brash percussive elements, old school synth lines, pulsing chords, languishing glitch-hop beats and soupy vocal goodness that Harley has melded together to create the Flume sound.
So here we have a remarkably confident debut release from an artist who is carving out his own sound and bringing people along for the ride. While there is a subtly nod to a divergent set of musical influences, Flume’s sound is ultimately unique. He confidently traverses his away across a broad tapestry of musical elements and does so without creating a single track that would be considered “filler”. This is music laden with soul, purpose, pathos and hope; sometimes gloomy, sometimes optimistic, but always fucking cool.