Review Summary: In with a bang, out with a whimperFlume
comes in with some sort of downtempo equivalent to a bang. Right from the syncopated accordion-like chords and thumping bass drum of opening track “Sintra,” Flume (22-year-old Australian producer Harley Streten) makes it clear his sound has a point, a composer determined not to get lost in the bevy of hip-hop and downtempo producers making insipid beats for a quick buck or a shot at fame and glory. And, as far as the beginning of the album goes, it seems as though Streten does indeed have something interesting to say. The passionate R&B and vibrant kicks of the anthemic “Holdin’ On” mark Flume as something different: there’s life
in his music. The undeniable glow of the album’s exposition is remarkable, and during the opening minutes it’s easy to believe Flume has found his voice. Just take the wonderful Chet Faker feature “Left Alone:” the swanky soul of the sun-drenched chords and claps establishes the song as a standout, a mark of the album’s quality.
However, the excellence of the first few songs ends up as more of a carrot on a stick than an accurate representation of the album as a whole. Continuing the “sun-drenched” metaphor for a moment, if the first bit of Flume
rejoices in the summer heat the remainder suffers from severe sunstroke. Streten’s vivacious beats give way to anemia within only a few songs, and the shockingly fast loss of life strikes quickly and leaves a broken album in its wake. The first song following the transition, “On Top,” drenches the dulcet hip-hop tones from before with overbearing sidechaining and a jarring synth lead. T.Shirt’s lackluster rapping and near-total flatness doesn’t particularly help, either, and the clashing vocals and out-of-place chiptune of the prechorus represent the downward trajectory of the rest of the album.
Of course, there’s inevitably something to be said about the album’s lack of presence, especially given the maximalist tendencies exhibited by much of today’s hip-hop beats. The laid-back vibe of producers like Nujabes has fallen out of the spotlight, replaced by the growling basslines of Rustie’s neon-glazed trap. In that regard, Flume
is a sort of countermeasure, the anthem of the counter-culture of young people all around the world who prefer natural lights to the artificial, buzzing glare of the clubs. Even the one definitively dancefloor-based tune, “More Than You Thought,” is nothing if not subdued: the quasi-bass-drop and distorted low end rely on a weepy mid-range to provide contrast. Even when making music for dancing, Streten takes pains to keep his production in check: not once does a rowdy synth break free from the confines of sluggish, torpid beats.
Which is how the faults of the album are best explained: all the life present in the album’s inception is squeezed out of the remainder by Flume’s immaculately controlled songmaking. As much as the term “overproduced” is a cop-out of sorts, especially regarding a gleaming final product like this, that heinous word seems to be exactly Streten’s problem: all the vivacity and vigor present in the best downtempo hip-hop-esque LPs is lost somewhere in the sluggishly shuffling hi-hats and jangly claps. Large pockets of the album are unequivocally drab: the aimless bleeps of “Ezra,” the limp arpeggios of “Warm Thoughts,” the bleached, repetitive synths of “Bring You Down.”
It’s understandable that some of the songs on the album have wormed their way onto the radio. The vocal-driven tracks in particular make for excellent alternatives to the 4x4 intensity of most of today’s pop provided on the air, and the summery, laid-back tunes provide a counterpoint to the intensely hedonistic fare typically served. This means, however, that Flume
stands as an introduction for many into the realm of downtempo electronic music. It’s easy to listen to and provides an instant hook, but unfortunately doesn’t have the means to sustain the average listener’s attention over the course of its entire runtime. Though it’s unfortunate to label much downtempo “background music,” the term is unsettlingly applicable to Flume
in this context. Able to give the listener neither the molly-laden intensity of other radio musicians nor the subtleties and intricacies of some similar R&B- and hip-hop-esque artists (producers like The Weeknd and Bonobo come to mind), the lasting impression of Streten’s milquetoast effort is of an album which is initially sonically pleasing but not much more than that. When Flume
fades away with the woozy, drowsy whimper that is Star Eyes
, there’s the overwhelming sensation that the album could have been so much more. With the stagnant back end stifling the release as a whole, though, there’s not much to do at this point except hope for Flume to go back to the drawing board.