Nearly four years on from his influential self-titled debut, Harley Streten has finally returned with the much-hyped Skin. Flume, while not a perfect record - still marked with a certain hesitance - heavily informed the language of Australian electronic music over the past few years. Skin sharpens and emboldens its angular rhythms and cut-up sounds, but ultimately this sophomore record feels like much of it is just surface without much underneath.
The instrumental "Helix," opens the record with swirling, intersecting high-resolution digital surfaces. As an intro it's ok, and as a composition it feels essentially non-existent. It's emblematic of what mars a lot of the hour-long, sixteen track record - it's simply not memorable. Streten plays around with unusual textures and rhythms, particularly on the glitchy "Wall Fuck," but often the results feel more like half-finished experiments than completed tracks with logical progressions or engaging hooks.
In comparison with Flume's first record, there are many more vocal features on Skin. When these work, as on the hugely successful single "Never Be Like You," which features an emotive turn from singer Kai over a luscious backdrop, or the blistering "Lost It" with rapper Vic Mensa, the songs are cohesive and gripping. Other songs are not as successful, like the drab, tired "Say It" with Swedish pop singer Tove Lo. Even appearances from rappers Allan Kingdom and Wu-Tang's Raekwon on "You Know" feel tacked on, and don't really engage with Flume's beats.
With the right collaborators, like Perth-based artist KUČKA, who appears twice, the results are sticky, gooey electro goodness. KUČKA's helium-voiced alienness is a perfect match for Flume's decidedly futuristic soundscapes, and her contributions, particularly alongside Vince Staples on the gaseous, flare-lit "Smoke & Retribution" bring out a certain looseness and ease in Flume's compositions.
What hurts Skin most of all is a vein of self-consciousness running through it - an obvious attempt to make sounds that are big and bright and unique, but without the attention to detail to underpin the ambition. The bigger names on the album, like Little Dragon, AlunaGeorge and indie rock luminary Beck ultimately drown out Flume on his own record. Beck's appearance in particular - on "Tiny Cities," which closes the album - is a disappointing anti-climax; It's an anemic ballad, an approximation of what a great electronic mood piece should be.
In its best moments, Skin brings the dynamism and arresting flurries of sound and ideas that are expected of Flume. The problem is that the record feels bloated, weighed down by filler and half-formed thoughts that never seem to develop. Skin presents a sleek and fascinatingly textured surface, but you come away from the record only remembering the moments that do manage to connect.
Skin is out now on CD, vinyl and digital formats. Flume is touring with SOPHIE and Vince Staples in December.