For obvious reasons, dropping an extraordinary debut album is an ideal move for any artist, of any genre. Blasting their way in to the mainstream consciousness with heat, and gusto, it would seem they are launched in to superstardom overnight. However, it doesn't come without its own drawbacks. After all, if people have connected so strongly to your debut work, they're going to expect much the same for any (all) of your follow up works. Especially when their numbers are great, as is the case with Flume, the crowd of disgruntled die-hard fans of Flume's debut album is extensively large - and loud. All I, personally, have seemed to hear regarding Flume's newest effort(s) is how disappointing it is compared to his debut album.
"What happened to the old Flume?" Call down the cries, as if Flume were an artist like Bruce Springsteen who has been around for decades. But, even in that case, Springsteen's music has changed. Evolution is a natural form of fluid movement for any artist, regardless of their medium, and Flume has been one of the finest examples of artistry in electronic music since his rapturously received debut. So why is his evolution so scary? Did he wait too long between albums (with his self-titled debut Flume hitting the airwaves in 2012, and this being, of course, 2016)? Regardless of the excuse for the complaints, and cries, with concern for Flume's sound having changed - there is no real rhyme or reason for demanding that an artist not evolve in some way, shape or form. In fact, the demand should be exactly the opposite. On that front, Flume has well and truly delivered with Skin. Does this album sound like 2012's Flume? Not particularly, but why would you want it to?
Ignoring the previous album and stepping in to the experience that is this one, Skin, allows moments of true rapture akin to that first album and, in this reviewer's opinion, further than that first album. Opening track ‘Helix’ induced chills reverberating down my hunched spine, a fitting opening pulling off the true fitting opening effect. With grandiose, cinematic sound, ‘Helix’ is apt in its ability to pull in a keen-eared listener. The cogs of the mind immediately begin to turn, imagining this song soundtracking a modern interpretation of classic sci-fi films such as Blade Runner, which it could well do so easily. Second track, and album single, Never Be Like You featuring the sultry Kai, is vastly different in the sense that it strays far from the cinematic sound and further towards the flowery, weightless imagery of dancing in the Summer sun. The rare single to still retain a fresh vibrancy in its sound, Never Be Like You sonically speaking, is the gentle kiss on your neck as you dance beneath an adoring crowd of Cherry Blossom trees. Does this sound like 'old' Flume? Not particularly, but it sounds no less epic, and pulls the listener in to a story no less beautiful.
Highlight featured guest Vic Mensa appears next, on Lose It, a pained, feverish ode to embracing the chaos of night. Flume displays his sense of attention with Vic Mensa's inclusion, recognising an artist about to blow up everywhere, and likely taking great note of Vic Mensa's previous tremendous collaborations with such electro compatriots as Skrillex and Kaytranada. For the 2016 partygoer, lost to the haze and smog of an evening, Lose It carries anthem potential - a weighty accolade which the track manages to, seemingly, carry with very little effort. Numb and Getting Colder is a different energy than the track preceding it, taking guest Kučka on a ride back to the cinematic, science fiction landscape sound displayed on the album opener. Kučka is a similar voice to both Kai and Tove Lo (who appears later on the album) which, admittedly, lends to this track sounding painfully similar to the tracks featuring the other two mentioned voices. And, since both Kai and Tove Lo appear on album singles, it is easy to see Numb and Getting Colder becoming lost in how similar it sounds. Which, in earnest, it does. No argument could be made to suggest the track is, in any way, not worth listening to - but it disappears in to the background of the two similar sounding album singles. As if on command, Say It featuring the previously mentioned Tove Lo appears - as if to further bury the preceding track in its similar sound. Inarguably the weakest of the singles released before the release of Skin, it still remains that ‘Say It’ is an enjoyable, though forgettable, song to listen to. In retrospect, it would have been far more preferable for Numb and Getting Colder to have taken the place of Say It as an album single, even as the beat to the Tove Lo featuring track is likely the most 'old' Flume sounding instrumental presented through the first portion of Skin.
Wall Fuck, which follows, is about as confusing a song to review as its title would suggest. The amalgamation of sounds falling in to the thumping bass line present an instrumental both complex and hard to pin down. Though it is enjoyable how hard to miss the fuck aspect of the instrumental is, with the loop and echo of female moans interwoven throughout. I see you, Flume. I see you. ‘Pika’ is another instrumental track seeing Flume flex his muscles, and is equally hard to pin down as Wall Fuck is - though far less confronting. In fact, again the sound Flume pulls off is almost... Joyous. Certainly it's dreamy, better enhanced by a brief vocal sample which sounds eerily similar to something Anohni might produce. Smoke and Retribution follows, with Kučka reappearing alongside buzzing rapper (who even takes the time to reference the fact that his name is buzzing) Vince Staples. A far more aggressive effort, led by the young hip-hop star enlisted to lead the song, Smoke and Retribution is a smoky offering that sets itself apart from any previous Flume drops. For some, it will set itself apart in a negative way, but for others it will do the opposite. Either way, the manner in which Flume has managed to match his featured guest with the instrumental is almost masterful, as Vince Staples proceeds on seemingly hand in hand with the beat - the beat and Staples, respectively, complimenting each other with the utmost sincerity and totality.
≈ returns Flume to the floatier territory familiarised previously on Never Be Like You, with chimes ringing in over a swooping bass line and a psychedelic vocal sample. Matching the cinematic landscape which Flume has, arguably, pioneered since his debut - 3 and the track which follows it, titled When Everything Was New are welcome instrumental pit stops for the album in its entirety. In earnest, it's rather extraordinary what Flume can do when he takes on the entirety of the spotlight and carries a track by himself. Yet, when Flume does manage to pick the right guest artists for the instrumental he puts forward, it's almost breathtaking.
This is certainly the case with You Know, where Flume presents an exquisitely weighted offering to best compliment featured artists Allan Kingdom (he of Kanye West All Day fame, and a talented solo artist in his own right) and Raekwon of the Wu-Tang Clan, the latter of whom particularly offers an extraordinary appearance unrivalled on the album in its entirety. As much as I would, personally, desire to give the album's highlight to Vic Mensa, it's Raekwon and You Know which really set themselves apart on the tracklist for Skin. Even Flume's solid offering featuring Little Dragon, Take A Chance (which follows You Know), gets a little lost in how tremendous the Raekwon feature was. Which, giving Take A Chance several re-listens, is an immense shame, since this track, too, sets itself apart as one of the album's true highlights. Flume briefly spoke on Twitter, recently, to express his excitement at working with Little Dragon, and the excitement truly shines through with the final product of Take A Chance. Flume elevates to the occasion, leapfrogging Little Dragon and truly proving why he is such a revered electronic artist. For this latter task, thirteenth track ‘Innocence’ featuring AlunaGeorge is another fine example. Flume is, seemingly without any great effort, able to craft a song which is able to elevate his featured guest to a transcendent, ethereal height. Alunageorge has simply never sounded so alluring, as Flume compliments the track's vocals with a mystical, magical ambient beat. It certainly cannot be accused of sounding like any one of the tracks on Flume's debut LP, but for some, including this reviewer, it will sound considerably better.
The same goes with Like Water featuring MNDR, continuing the solid run of tracks on the latter half of Skin which continues on through another solo offering from Flume, track fifteen titled Free, and the Beck-featuring Tiny Cities. Say what you will about Flume, but he clearly knows how to close out a record well, which is a skill in and of itself if you know music well enough. The sheer fact that Flume is able to not only keep up with Beck (a true musician by every definition of the word, and the term), but also smoothly introduce Beck's sound in to his own, is a testament to how much Flume has matured as an artist.
The problem will be, and is for some already, that this album doesn't sound much like Flume's self-titled debut. Which, with now that album was received and has prevailed since then, will cause undoubted issues amongst Flume fans who will cry (as they are now) -what happened to the old Flume? The answer is, quite simply, that he grew up. He evolved, therein embracing the intrinsic nature of a real artist. Because the real artist evolves, and so too does their art evolve with them. That is the resounding hope with, and expectation for, all true art. The only real question is why so many so-called 'Flume fans' can't, or won't, recognise it. Is it this year's greatest album so far? No, it isn't. Is it a 10 out of 10 album? No, it's not that either. But is it a good album? Yes, yes it is. Especially because (and sorry in advance 'Flume fans') it isn't a 2012 Flume album. It's a 2016 one, embrace it or walk away.