Flume’s newest album comes after a four year wait since his self-titled debut, and it’s a mixed bag. Skin at times recalls Rustie’s sophomore disappointment from two years ago. On Green Language, the normally maximalism-minded Rustie expanded his festival sound by incorporating beat-less interludes (which merely pointed to how uninteresting he was when out of his natural element) and by hiring rappers like Danny Brown, D Double E and Redinho to mostly subpar results. Similarly, Flume – who had previously worked with T.Shirt on his debut’s “On Top” – hires four rappers on three songs here. The usually omnivorous Vic Mensa fails “Lose It” with one of his worst choruses, whose squealed sounds might’ve worked on INNANETAPE’s “Run!” but simply doesn’t catch fire. The problematic lyric, “I feel like Nagasaki, dog/ I’m ‘bout to drop the bomb” simply doesn’t make sense – Bockscar dropped the bomb on Nagasaki. Elsewhere, “You Know,” featuring the ever-inconsistent Raekwon, might be one of the better beats he’s rapped on lately, but his storytelling leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination, to say nothing of the forced rhyme, “I know she love him, but he a snail/ He tryna push love in jail.”
The Vince Staples feature “Smoke & Retribution,” one of the album’s singles, fares best of the three, but has its own problems. Staples’ greatest asset has always been his voice – that of a world-weary youth who’s seen too much – but Flume’s glitch-synths bury Staples’ observations of the world around him (“Had to tint my whip; my name is buzzing/ Know they plan on killing mine.”) Compare to the sparer, woozier beats of Summertime ‘06, or the less-busy production under T.Shirt’s bits in “On Top.” Meanwhile, Flume has revealed that Kucka’s parts were added afterwards – and it shows: they feel added in from a different song to give this one a chorus; there isn’t any thought to transition from Staples’ verses to Kucka’s choruses. Juxtaposition’s too kind a word.
If Flume (real name Harley Streten) wants to unite the ever-splintering tastes of festival-goers by fusing EDM, pop and hip-hop, then that’s more ambition than a lot of his contemporaries. Skin’s best songs are the ones where Flume’s larger-than-life sounds and the voices of his features are allowed to complement each other: Kai’s flights to falsetto on the verses and choruses of “Never Be Like You,” or Little Dragon’s billowing voice on “Take a Chance.” On the album’s longer tracks, Flume gets more ambitious, and the pitch-shifting of Kucka’s voice makes “Numb and Getting Colder” the album’s most experimental entry. Elsewhere, he supplies AlunaGeorge with slippery future garage drums that make the song an easy highlight even if “Innocence” didn’t have any business going over six minutes.
But a lot of the instrumentals leave much to be desired: “Pika” ain’t much except for the textures of the keyboard line buried underneath the hyper-active synth; on “Wall Fuck,” the contrast between the fantastic overwhelming bass and the bass-less wall of vocals grows tiresome, and once you’ve heard one electronic musician sample children playing faraway, you’ve heard it all (“When Everything Was New”). The bi-partite “Helix” does fine, with the first half having a flute wafting over budding distortion before Flume wipes it all away for the arpeggio-led second half.
Skin closes with “Tiny Cities,” featuring Beck, who has lately filled his resume with more electronic artists, like last year’s Chemical Brothers collaboration. Flume’s pitch-shifting and fast arpeggios of Beck’s typically slacker drawl makes him completely unrecognizable, but the experimentation results in a pretty bed of vocals around the 1:20 mark and the robot anthem starting from 2:45. The ambition of this album– however flawed its execution – signals only good things for Flume, and it will be interesting to see where he goes next.