Flume – Palaces
In the years since Australian producer Flume first unleashed his post-dubstep, future bass trap upon the world, the electronic music landscape has shifted significantly. The off-kilter, staccato shapes of Flume’s sound, seemingly cut from moments of pause in between, have become more commonplace while the rise of hyperpop and future bass have made metallic, hyperactive machine sounds more prescient than ever. In fact, some of dance music’s current zeitgeist defining it-kids like A.G. Cook or even Arca may owe more to Flume than expected. For a moment, it seemed the producer was poised to bridge the gap between the underground and mainstream EDM, following the critical success of his debut album and his subsequent meteoric rise. Yet the weight of mainstream success seemed to consume too much of him. 2016’s Skin, with its myriad of pop crossovers, may have scored the producer a Grammy but it also relegated him to the ranks of Diplo and Zedd more so than his underground peers who were beginning to forge distinct paths of their own. Perhaps most emblematic of Flume’s promise is 2019’s Hi, This Is Flume, a 17 track mixtape that gave the producer space to exorcise his innate ‘weird’ side. It also showed that he was acutely self-aware, with a collage of promotional monologues (‘Hi, this is Flume. You’re listening to my new single’) opening an unbridled set that featured collaborations with SOPHIE and Eprom. To date, the mixtape may be Flume’s strongest, but on his third album Palaces, he’s attempting to once again reconcile these two sides of his artistry.
Palaces sees Flume return to pop-adjacent vocal collaborations, with varying degrees of success. Tracks like opener Highest Building with Oklu and I Can’t Tell with Laurel are nothing particularly new in the scope of his oeuvre, and seem to exist to service the crowds at Ultra. Escape with Kučka is more promising, a track that swings big and sounds massive. It’s a better melding of Flume’s pop proclivities with his left-field interests, chopping Kučka’s voice into a pattern of stutters in lieu of a chorus and then throwing them into a blender of abrasive, grandiose, and confrontational hyperpop sounds, like a rubber bouncy-ball possessed by the spirit of SOPHIE. There’s something to be said of lead single Say Nothing with MAY-A, which sees Flume explore previously uncharted territory in the scope of his sound; a sort of reggaeton / funk carioca groove accented with bawdy brass blares and squelching bass. It’s the album’s most straightforward pop song, but also one of its more substantial ones, and should have traded places with Highest Building as the album’s introduction.
This Latinx inspiration isn’t insular on the album, it shows up again on Hollow with Emma Louise but more significantly, on Only Fans with Virgen María. Some context: Virgen María is the subversive and often explicit performance persona of Spanish producer María Forqué, who more often than not can be heard repeating a single word like “fashion” or “tetas” on loop to hard techno. On Only Fans, she has a lot more to say, delivering a spoken word bit about sex work and OnlyFans. Scoring this is Flume’s most ambitious beat on Palaces, a mutant reggaeton cyberpunk techno monster that could pass for Arca or Sega Bodega. It’s the most outright raucous moment on Palaces, and possibly one of its strongest outside of the crown jewel, Sirens. The Caroline Polachek collaboration and sophomore single from the album is just as haunting and affecting nestled into the latter half of Palaces, Polachek’s wistful vocals sylph-like as ever and in gorgeous contrast with Flume’s guttural, mechanical firing pistons, like chrome warping under the power of Polachek’s siren call.
His solo work on Palaces sees Flume show some range, particularly Get U which contorts from clunky, distorted drum’n’bass to spacey baile funk. Jasper’s Song is full of tenderness, a piano aria in lo-fi played out across an ambient soundscape of drones synths and buzzing bass. There’s touches of footwork on the trap of Love Light, while Go sounds like a summation of Flume’s Palaces influences with its passages of rhythmic structure segmented by classic Flume build-and-drops. Whether Palaces is a more successful intertwining of mainstream Flume with underground provocateur Flume is debatable, though the tracks that come closest to this shine fairly bright in the hallways of Palaces. There’s still something to Flume that feels ripe with potential, and perhaps Palaces will serve as the threshold necessary for him to crossover into the sorts of spaces where he’s at his best.
Watch the music video for Only Fans with Virgen María from Palaces below.