REVIEW: FLUME PLAYS IT TOO SAFE IN NEW ALBUM ‘SKIN’
Flume’s second album Skin has just dropped after an impatient 4-year wait… and it’s kind of worth the hype.
Following hot teaser singles Never Be Like You and Say It, featuring Kai and Tove Lo respectively, this album showcases the likes of Vic Mensa, KUČKA, Vince Staples, Little Dragon and AlunaGeorge. Clearly, the home-grown producer can work with just about anyone (and everyone), recalling Lockjaw, his fantastic collab with the original hipster, Chet Faker.
In Skin, Flume seems to be experimenting with his sound, but at times, the album falls flat because he plays it too safe. Starting off strong with Helix, Flume takes a nosedive into what he does best: speculative electronica playing with a range of ambient beats and synths that reminds us of what he’s capable of. Dance floor banger Never Be Like You with Kai’s addictive vocals is an instant winner, but we already knew that because it was a chart-topping single. Lose It is an interesting blend of future bass and Vic Mensa’s fiery rhythm, but that’s about it.
What soon becomes clear is that Skin is mostly just interesting. Flume embraces abrasive and alien sounds, aiming for a moody return to the electronic music scene, but sometimes he’s either trying too hard or playing it too safe. Tracks like Numb & Getting Colder and Smoke & Retribution are confusing at first listen as they combine caustic instrumentals with KUČKA’s delicate voice. At times, the sounds fuse harmoniously, but at other times it gets too messy. It’s an odd choice to feature both Vince Staples’ defiant rant about not being “scared of six feet/Cause I ain't scared to be free,” and KUČKA’s breathy promise of “Leaving through the night and starting fires/Going through society's desires” in the latter track, but somehow they meld well and the lyrics hit home.
Flume is at his best when he experiments in Wall Fuck and Free, where he opts for aggressively repetitive synths and dynamic, hard-hitting beats. But he’s also at his best when he takes risks by stripping back his sound. In Say It, Tove Lo is allowed free reign with her sensual plea for bed-breaking sex and it’s an instant hit. Allan Kingdom and Raekwon team up in You Know, spitting confronting lines like, “I would pull the trigger but I'm thinking that it's better I, better I/Burn you like a cinder, let me share the light”. In Take a Chance, Flume produces a restrained backtrack that cooperates with Little Dragon’s soothing voice. Mellow, but also refreshing because it marks a departure from the rest of the album. AlunaGeorge’s ethereal trill coalesces with ambient synths in Innocence, but it’s almost identical to Like Water.
Along the way, some of Flume’s tracks fade into obscurity or they sound great, but simultaneously are too similar-sounding to the rest. The main problem with Skin is that there aren’t many tracks that actually stand out because they mostly blend into one sound. Even the choice of Tiny Cities as closing track, albeit having Beck’s measured delivery of its thoughtful lyrics, doesn’t seem to adequately encapsulate the entirety of the album. There’s just too much going on and at the same time, not enough to ‘wow’ listeners.
Although Skin does boast some musical gems, there is the unmistakeable gut-feeling that Flume can do, and has done, better.
PLAYBACK RATING: 6.5/10
PLAY IT ONCE (but play the right tracks or your eyes might go to sleep...)/ don't play it/ play it again