The title track of “Hi This Is Flume” begins the album perfectly. It layers snippets of the Australian producer introducing himself in interviews and becomes more cluttered until the end of the 28-second track. There are no other noises — his speaking voice fills every corner as the song transitions into the next. It’s a gimmick, but a fitting one. Flume has been active since 2011, but “Hi This Is Flume” is a reintroduction.
His breakout self-titled album in 2012 was ethereal, created with his trademark synths that levitate on top of bass seemingly recorded underwater. The dreamy quality felt like a one-person pool party on the moon, and the sound quickly penetrated electronic and popular music alike. His follow-up, “Skin,” added sleek production to this formula to effectively pair with pop stars like AlunaGeorge and Tove Lo, even entering the Billboard Top 40 with the single “Never Be Like You.”
But on “Hi This Is Flume,” he ventures far outside his previous work. Music that could fit on a playlist for studying is exchanged for something that demands full attention. This side was shown in moments on “Skin” and on his collaborations since that album, but on “Hi This Is Flume,” he fully explores the experimental edge those tracks had. Instead of steady drums that make for easy listening, every track stutters and stumbles its way to the end. Whether the drums, synths or vocal samples are used to achieve this, everything feels excitingly off-kilter. Snares come in a split-second before the audience expects, and the bass holds the beat only because of how these songs’ chaos is established.
“Vitality” begins pleasantly, but the nature of the album presents in the strange sound effects that function as percussion. Once the song builds to a point where no more sounds can fit, everything drops out to give way to an abrasive synth carrying a much darker melody. After a few moments, the beginning motif comes back so effortlessly, the listener can barely tell that the beat ever changed.
Songs like this are common on the album. Less than a third of the tracks last more than three minutes, but this structure perfectly achieves what Flume is trying to do. They expand and contract, building until the ambience collapses into dissonance without overstaying their welcome. With only two of the tracks featuring singers, the album’s erratic nature doesn’t leave space for traditional vocal performances anyway. “Hi This Is Flume” is a demonstration of what the producer is capable of, not a search for a No. 1 single.
But a few songs give glimpses of what a commercial album would look like. JPEGMAFIA-assisted “How To Build A Relationship” is a highlight of the rapper’s own discography, fitting his left-of-center style perfectly. The beat is driving rather than disorienting and far less busy than the rest of the album, but it still features glitchy synths and a laser-fire kind of blip. The arrangement gives space for JPEG to firmly establish a flow, rapping for two minutes uninterrupted by a refrain or chorus.
The mixtape’s highlight comes in a collaboration with fellow experimental producer SOPHIE. SOPHIE’s influence shows heavily in everything from the unconventional percussion to the synth tones. The duo works together on “Voices” to make a song that allows vocalist KUCKA to angelically sing without sacrificing the disorder that defines the album.
The mixtape does falter at times. “High Beams” attempts what “How To Build A Relationship” does, but guest rappers HWLS and slowthai fall far short of JPEG’s performance on the latter track. The remix of SOPHIE’s “Is It Cold In The Water” adds little to the original song and feels out of place, and while the album is a relatively robust 38 minutes, more than a few tracks could have been left on the cutting room floor.
“Hi This Is Flume” is labeled as a mixtape, but it feels more like a DJ set. Every track flows into the next perfectly. There are a few collaborations as well as a remix, and the work is split so that by the time one song seems like it’ll return to a motif, the next one starts. The album builds and falls much like its songs do, giving the audience time to relax before the next assault of noise comes.
It’s a set for today’s generation — a time when once-stable governments are in disarray, attention spans are getting shorter and the earth might collapse before we do. Vocal samples are edited so heavily they sound like synthesizer patches, and even the most organic sound on the album, a piano in “Daze 22.00,” is cut up like the piano is having a malfunction. It feels like music from a supercomputer, not a 27-year-old.
However, it’s his age that defines the album. There’s never been this level of anxiety for the future until now, and his spastic, robotic and chaotic music encapsulates it. This generation doesn’t know which will come first — the apocalypse or the singularity. But if nuclear war comes, “Hi This Is Flume” will soundtrack humanity’s last dance parties in fallout shelters.
Contact Graham Schiltz at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.