In honour of the home country and the rise to stardom and the exceptional debut record of Australia’s Flume, I am going to give you this review from the bottom up. So I’ll tell you without hesitation that it’s a great record overall and then proceed to explain why I think that is. It seems only fitting since that’s exactly how this record is going to break. The young Sydney-based producer sold out two Australian national tours fueled entirely by the hype surrounding his first EP entitled Sleepless and a few remixes and singles smattering various radio shows, competitions and mix sessions. The title track from that EP finds itself appearing on this record as well – and you’ll be glad it did.
I can’t easily pigeonhole this record by genre. At times I’d like to compare it to Skream’s Outside the Box or Deadbeat’s Eight because it’s made up of elements of both. It’s also drenched in the off-sync beats and pitched-warped, haunting vocals that Burial made famous in “Archangel”. It seems to ride that same gray area between roots dubstep influence and a simple, more accessible electronic pop. The bass is not overpowering or even outstanding but simply ample. What differentiates it overall is Flume’s uncanny attention to the details of pop music playbook. In spite of the use of constructs other artists have introduced, this record brings it all to the table in an accessible and powerful package. It’s no surprise that he’s already being sought after for the remix scene.
The opening synths on “Sintra” are dated and old-school enough to turn off anyone with a short attention span. You believe for a moment that it has to be ironic or just plain bad but it ends up surprising you. He recycles the vintage synth stabs and they take on new life holding up the structure of fragmented glitch-hop pacing. Put in context, it all works really well. EdIT and his band of Glitch Mob pioneers would be proud to hear their vision so well articulated. Pitch-warped female vocals cat-call the refrain, “Let me / Love you”. I’m hooked just in time to be thrown into “Holdin On” which keeps the momentum growing. The soulful vocal sample crying out “Oh hip shake’n mama / I love you!” on time with the beat makes it impossible not to nod your head. And it just keeps getting better from here.
The entire album succeeds so well in its refusal to succumb to dance music tropes or to wallow entirely in obscure new trends. It walks a fine line between Digitalism and DJ Muggs. There is no pounding bass thump to be found that would land him in a set next to Deadmau5 and at least from my North American perspective, that’s a welcome change. But he would be just as easily dismissed, I expect, by the dubstep purists from Croydon as being just a little too sweet tooth especially on tracks like “Left Alone”. Chet Faker, a name which was completely new to me, sounds smooth as silk singing along rock-style while his voice is dripped over gentle synth lines and light whistles. It somehow manages to pull off the delicate balance of sounding light-hearted and refreshingly sincere. No easy task.
I can’t tell you if it’s actually Jezzabell Doran’s vocals that I am enjoying on “Sleepless“ as much as I am enjoying the samples repetitively woven into a slow disco groove so slick it could be a downtempo Daft Punk. This is the track on which the name was built and with good reason.
All that the rapper T. Shirt wants in his life is to do “one thing”, or possibly “his thing” – that’s not entirely clear. That thing is “the top” – we know because he keeps repeating it. I don’t know how you do the top but surely he could have done it on his own record. The guest rapper on an electronic music record has become an unnecessary staple of any electronic music release and for me it’s become something I endure more often than celebrate. I have nothing against collaborations when they are inspired and they add something unique to a record but I don’t think anything is added here. Fans of Drake’s style, of which there are many, may dig this more than I did but for me it felt like the track succeeded in spite of the rhymes rather than because of it. “Stay Close” bubbles up in the froth left behind and turns out a sexy number which will make your speakers wiggle seductively.
“Insane” featuring Moon Holiday, a beautiful and straightforward after-party slow-burner before it transforms into a full-on pop anthem which could very easily find a home on mainstream charts. How is it possible to make that transition? With a well-constructed nod-inducing kick drum and synth melody. Admittedly the album starts to feel front-loaded, however, when the latter half of the record finds some missteps. In the rather boring instrumentals “Ezra”, “More than You Thought” and “Space Cadet” you have to have enough momentum from the first half to carry you through (and I did). You’ll find yourself swooning again to “Bring You Down”. The pattern of success becomes very clear from track to track. Flume is at his best when he is painting with a palette of pop vocals. Though the instrumentals are not without their merits (“What You Need” is particularly delightful and glitchy slow-jam) they play more like filler in between the real diamonds. With this record, Flume has announced himself as an up and coming producer with a big future in taking the sort of calculated stylistic risks of artists like Diplo. Though he’s playing it pretty safe here, he’s posturing like someone who’s got big plans.
When Flume is released, I expect the record will soar enough to carry his name off of his own continent. Even if not, he’s always got the internet with which to reach his fans and if fresh and innovative electronic pop is your thing, I expect you’re about to become one.