There is always much to be said about the music that makes up our formative years, and the effects it has on the rest of our lives. There’s the sense of bragging rights that manifests itself when someone was around for especially important musical events: from those who saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, to catching the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video during one of its first spins on MTV. Harley Streten, the 21-year-old Australian who produces under the name Flume, grew up in a very fertile time for the sounds he explores, having started constructing beats at the age of 13. He was 15 when Burial’s Untrue dropped, not even a teenager when Timbaland and the Neptunes were repeatedly blasting through our expectations of what pop production was capable of, alive when UK garage and other forms of electronic music bubbled up in a time where just about anything seemed possible.
Whether or not these were the exact sounds that affected the younger Streten, all of these things and more are rolled into Flume, his debut long player. Although the sheer diversity of styles make it seem less like a proper album and more like a portfolio presentation, it gets by on the excitement of possibility: that from this point, Streten has at least 15 different sonic roads he could travel, and do well on all of them.
Flume is first off, an expertly sequenced release. Streten hooks with the more single/banger-minded material before hitting the trapdoor button, dropping the listener into more immersive and moody pieces. Several hallmarks of the genre are present: full-blast synth stabs, vocal samples chopped and pitch-shifted into oblivion and into achingly emotional shapes, tooth-rattling low end. Total comfort food, but performed with unhinged joy, especially on tracks like “Holdin’ On,” with its ecstatic vocal samples, and first single “Sleepless.” On the latter track, Streten’s keyboard work acts as a smooth bed or warm funk for his slicing and dicing of Jezzabell Doran’s vocals, one second letting them ride, the next looping them into climactic buildups. His explicit foray into hip-hop, “On Top,” is chock-full of deafening chords and exploratory synth squiggles, with Los Angeles rapper T. Shirt holding down the dual roles of crowd-rocker and introspective, Kid Cudi-esque crooner. After the head-down Chromatics groove of “Insane,” the album’s second half contains more appeals to traditionalists, with the bass wobbles and seasick synths of “More Than You Thought,” the chipmunk vocal manipulations of “Ezra,” and the wailing diva hooks of “What You Need.”
Flume manages to be somewhat of a timeless release in terms of modern electronic music, one that could have dropped at any point over the past 12 years or so and still made an impact of some sort. Streten may still need to put in some work in establishing his own identity as a producer, and in putting together a coherent project instead of another idea-dump, but his potential is through the roof. Time is definitely on his side.