Flume – Palaces

Influential Australian electronic producer and future bass pioneer Flume has been out of the spotlight since dropping his excellent experimental mixtape Hi This Is Flume back in 2019 at the height of SOPHIE’s fame. Now back with a project apparently inspired by the work of the late legend, Palaces finds Flume once again simply messing around with sounds and not giving too much of a thought to how the crashing beats line up. Sometimes, it makes for an invigorating experience, and sometimes a confusing one, but you can’t deny that his penchant for pop hooks returns with a vengeance on a couple of these tracks. While at times the project feels simultaneously too weird and not weird enough to measure up to his past catalogue, there are a couple gems to be discovered within the insanity here.

The project opens with two of its most radio-ready tracks, something that we haven’t really heard from Flume since he admirably brought something a little bizarre to the masses back in 2016. “Highest Building” features hyperpop titan Danny L Harle on co-production and is easily the most recognizably influenced by some of SOPHIE’s classic tones – the trademark clinks and the digital, robotic whooshes in the back complement the shimmering synthpop textures and buoyant chorus well, Flume’s signature stuttering and off-kilter beats rushing in for the overwhelming crash of the drop. With some meaningful differences between the drops and a lush sonic world to explore, Flume blends his top-notch creativity with something a little more palatable. “Say Nothing” does the same with a bit of a darker tone, the track feeling like it should be set in the same kind of dense tropical jungle that the bird on the album cover might inhabit. Incorporating some trendy Latin rhythms into his wonky style, a standout vocal performance from MAY-A tops it off. In between these tracks, sometimes you get something like “DHLC,” a shorter track that’s essentially a disorienting collage of unique sounds. It has the same energy as a 100 Gecs interlude – it lets listeners into the wild mind behind it all, but it’s not really something to return to.

The track “ESCAPE” is an absolute anomaly, in that it feels like all of the derisive comments people have ever made comparing electronic music to robot seizures and the like have finally come true, but it keeps me coming back with a degree of morbid curiosity. Flume’s frequent collaborator Kucka sings a sugary sweet over a seemingly random assortment of hi-hats behind, her voice being chopped up arrhythmically during the drop as the track turns into a complete deconstruction of bubblegum pop and Flume’s own style. Every beat is mixed punishingly loud to feel like a slap in the face, and you essentially have no way of predicting when the hits will come. It’s somewhat impossible to enjoy as you would typical music, but that’s what makes it so much fun. “I Can’t Tell,” on the other hand, might be the most normal Flume song of all time. The drop does contain some glitchy buzzing sounds that extend a beat too short or too long to an electrifying degree, but this one feels awkwardly more similar to the work of The Chainsmokers than the rest of Flume’s catalogue. The track “Get U” is another instrumental as Flume plays around with all the crushing bass tones that he has, panning them back and forth and mixing them with a Lil Tjay sample of all things as the track slowly evolves into an ODESZA-style bright and synth-driven number with more reggaeton influence. It’s a sonic journey that is a treat to hear played out.

Yet another Flume dichotomy plays out across the tracks “Jasper’s Song” and “Only Fans,” which is about exactly what you think it is. The former is an ambient piano piece that serves as a touching come down from all the madness, sounding like it comes from an emotional moment in an anime despite the toned-down industrial bass and a couple sudden derailments of future bass rhythmic attacks. The latter features a bombastic rapped performance from Virgen Maria that feels like it was ripped out of another sonic world and pasted on top haphazardly. It’s a bit of an uncomfortable listen, but it can’t be said that Flume can’t laugh at himself. The track “Hollow” feels like another relatively normal song by Flume’s standards, but the melody at its core is so pleasant that it doesn’t particularly matter. Emma Louise’s breathy tone makes her starry-eyed romantic lyrics sparkle against Flume’s uplifting electronic palate, and the track feels like it could have fit right in alongside the early beginnings of PC Music.

The project’s final run is consistently strong. “Love Light” is a sinister trap-oriented song that juxtaposes with a sample repeating the track’s title that feels like it’s destined to be boss music, while “Go” keeps the energy going with another upbeat track full of typical Flumeisms. “Sirens” and the closing track “Palaces” stand out on an entirely different level. Caroline Polachek’s vocals on the former are pristine and ethereal as the slapdash beat hits cascade behind her on another one that’s very SOPHIE-adjacent, while the album fades out on an ambient track full of Flume’s genuine field recordings of birds that’s briefly blessed by a musical legend in Damon Albarn, who lends his gravitas to the final moments.

While it doesn’t hit the highs of Hi This Is Flume, this is the sound of a producer who’s already changed the game just having fun, blending the two sides of his personality that have been successful and merging his radio-friendly and experimental sounds. You wouldn’t expect everything on a Flume project to connect – not immediately, anyway – and that’s what many people love about him.

Favourite Tracks: Highest Building, Say Nothing, Hollow, ESCAPE, Sirens

Least Favourite Track: I Can’t Tell

Score: 7/10

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