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The chasm that once separated mainstream electronic music and Top 40 has all but vanished. A few years ago, a captive festival goer might have been a producer’s target audience; now the casual radio listener is the true prize. It’s the difference between Skrillex, one of electronic music’s most prominent artists, making “Bangarang,” a 2x-platinum-certified single from 2012 that didn’t register with the average commuter, and forging “Where Are Ü Now?” a Justin Bieber number that guaranteed a primo spot in the great hall of pop.
The Australian producer Flume (born Harley Edward Streten), built his career on a different type of accessibility. His songs can be easy to fall into, but they don’t usually lasso listeners and ensnare them like an undeniable airwave triumph. Flume’s 2012 self-titled debut, an oasis of lite house and loungeable hip-hop, offered refuge from the fusillade of trap beats sweeping through electronic music at the time. His second full-length, Skin, released four years later, set aside big-room lullabies to emphasize big-name collaborations, but there was a reticent quality to it. Flume worked with rappers on the declarative, bruising end of the spectrum—Vic Mensa, Vince Staples—but didn’t make the kind of songs that really knocked you on your ass. He enlisted singers—Beck, Tove Lo—to create pop songs that were neither sugary nor off-kilter. He spoke of “mak[ing] experimental music accessible” and “fus[sing] the abrasive and the beautiful,” but seemed to sell both sides short.
Flume patrols the same liminal zone on Skin Companion EP II. He leads with an uppercut, a track that’s supposed to slug its way into your subconscious: “Enough” features rapping from the stolid veteran Pusha T, and the beat shovels a stream of noises—hollow wood tones, staticky crumbles—at the listener to stimulate a fight-or-flight response. But the song plays as an attempt to redo Lil Uzi Vert’s “Uzi” and extract the magic from its alluring rumble. The central riffs of the two tracks are similar, as are the liquidating blots of bass and the drum breaks that “Uzi”-producer Charlie Heat also inserted into Kanye West’s “All Day.” “Enough” never surges beyond emulation, any abrasiveness blunted by the feeling that this is an academic beat-making exercise.
The rest of Skin Companion II veers away from the rough stuff to return to the modes Flume explored on his first album. “Depth Charge” will do fine as a bridge towards the more peaceful side of a live set. “Fantastic,” a collaboration with Dave Bayley of Glass Animals, is a colorless mid-tempo number with a clomping drum pattern designed to make heads bob. The most promising tune on the EP is “Weekend,” a reverie with extended beat-less portions. Though Moses Sumney’s presence only registers as the song begins to wind down, his soothing tone is enough to summon the floating, comatose feeling. Flume doesn’t want to be pinned down, and he’s intent on proving his ability to make functional music for multiple scenarios. But malleability is only really powerful when it’s accompanied by memorability, and the latter remains out of reach for Flume.Share