Flume Rebuilds with ‘Palaces’

On May 23, 2022

Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Flume’s nature-driven third album, Palaces.

Harley Streten, better known as Flume, pioneered and helped popularize the early 2010s era of electronic music. From the moment he released his debut self-titled album in 2012, all eyes turned toward his unconventional sound. Absent of heavy bass and packed with erratic, uplifting pulses of synths and vocal chops, it was the first semblance of what he could produce and made his name synonymous with the rising future bass genre. His next solo album, Skin, continued pressing at the boundaries while still holding mainstream appeal, and won the Best Dance/Electronic Album at the Grammy Awards in 2017. 

Amid the bustle of city life and constant touring that came with Streten’s rapid success at an early age, he also grappled with anxiety and self-medicating with alcohol. With the culmination of these pressures and for his own well-being, he sought to return to his roots and made his way back to Australia, where he found his muse for Palaces through the serenity of the Northern Rivers. Streten’s latest album, while still retaining all the technical qualities that launched him into stardom, places him in a different headspace than his previous output. 

From the budding notes in “Highest Building” that introduce Palaces, it’s apparent the album takes an elevated approach from his previous works, as the drawn out notes fuse almost perfectly with the autotuned tinges of Oklou’s vocals. This uplifting quality carries over into songs like “Jasper’s Song,” which sees Streten flex his organic musical talent in the form of slightly distorted piano chords, while a cascade of strings bring out a previously unfounded heavenly aspect to his music. Likewise, the eponymous song “Palaces,” featuring Damon Albarn, flourishes by taking its time folding in those natural elements that inspired the album in the first place, with birds twittering throughout the song. It’s a beautiful track that highlights the mental and creative benefits Streten found by relocating back to Australia during the beginning of the pandemic. The song also takes a more traditional approach in the context of Flume’s discography, undertaking break beats in a uniform manner rather than the usual clash.

Diving into the album’s singles, “Say Nothing,” “Escape,” “Hollow” and “Sirens” (which features Caroline Polachek), most closely resemble the appeal of 2016’s Skin. In fact, it’s on the songs that feature vocals where Streten forgoes his highly experimental sounds — like in his last release, the mixtape Hi This Is Flume — and leans closer to pop, allowing the singers to drive the direction of the music while his production supplements. 

But still, the experimental cacophonies are present in songs like “DHLC” and “Get U,” and it’s in these tracks where Streten thrives the most — where the music finds its grit while feeling untethered from the circumstances Streten had to undergo to achieve it in previous albums and songs. It’s also during moments like these in the album where the late SOPHIE’s hyperpop influence radiates. 

While the theme of nature itself is intended to drive the music, it falls a little short and lacks a cohesive, overarching sound. Despite this, Palaces finds Streten in his most natural state and in tune with himself as an artist. Even without cohesion, the album touts diversity and a robust view of Streten’s growth, where we as listeners can uncover something entirely different from anything he had previously released as Flume. 

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Jillian Nguyen

Jillian's origin story began with jam sessions to early 2000s Eurodance tunes, resulting in her current self-proclamations as an EDM aficionado. Jillian has followed her favorite artists to over 15 music festivals and countless concerts.

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