The likes of Toro Y Moi, Nosaj Thing and Flying Lotus may have every hipster-friendly blog foaming at the mouth, but other than the latter’s recent brief foray into the Billboard Top 40, their idiosyncratic soundscapes are usually met with a resounding air of bewilderment by the mainstream.
It’s all the more remarkable, then, that the self-titled debut album from their Australian counterpart, Flume, was only kept off the top spot by One Direction in his homeland’s ARIA charts before eventually knocking Justin Bieber off the summit three months later. Now with a wider international release of the album, the rest of the world gets to hear just how 21-year-old Harley Streten has made the leap from underground producer to rubbing shoulders with pop’s biggest tween idols.
Judging solely by the record’s slice and diced second half, it’s difficult to see why Flume has been embraced so readily by the mainstream. The suitably-titled futuristic electronica of “Space Cadet,” the kaleidoscopic music box of “Warm Thoughts” and the woozy hip-hop of closer “Star Eyes” are all slightly disorientating instrumentals which are just as head-scratching as those of Streten’s L.A. peers’. Likewise, the woozy tribal-tinged “More Than You Thought” is unlikely to satisfy those who like their dubstep with lashings of speaker-blasting bass.
But all becomes clear with the opening seven tracks, which filled with pitch-shifted vocal loops, ghostly synth stabs and post R&B beats, all cleverly straddle the worlds of avant-garde experimentalism and melodic pop with aplomb, from the warped funk of “Sleepless,” to the explosive sci-fi rap of “On Top” to the gorgeous slow-motion house of “Insane.”
While there are occasions when it appears as though Flume has handed Alvin and the Chipmunks a little too much responsibility on the production desk, the album also possesses a much more organic & emotive core, particularly on “Holdin’ On,” a haunting and gutsy instant electro-soul classic which breathes new life into Otis Redding’s “Can’t Turn You Loose”, and the introspective “Left Alone,” which sounds like Tears For Fears covering The Weeknd.
Despite its vaguely commercial leanings, Flume still feels like an unlikely chart-topper. Whether or not it can replicate its Aussie success elsewhere, the avant-garde electronica scene has undoubtedly gained a new hero.