Clocking in a bit overlong and failing to reach Flume’s previous artistic peak, Palaces is nonetheless a breezy, catchy listening experience.
The latest artist to offer up a perspective on the chaos and disruption of the Covid pandemic, Australian EDM producer Flume returns with his third album (fourth if counting 2019 mixtape Hi This Is Flume), Palaces, a vibrant, loosely conceptual dance record conceived in response to the gloom and isolation that defined 2020. A cute narrative that has likely been echoed by any number of musicians releasing in the last year (although this one is supposedly informed by a plot involving a motocross racer who is the embodiment of nature), and one that Flume hardly needs to justify the tone of the music for, Palaces is not exactly a huge switch-up for the high-energy producer. Arriving on the scene in 2012 when electronic dance music still had a firm grip on mainstream, Flume was one of a handful of artists who became a superstar off of hyped, festival-minded dubstep and tasteful, high-profile remixes. Since then, a lot of significant names from that moment have fallen back into cult status, persisting as lineup filler, but Flume has managed a bit more than that, ever so gently tweaking his sound over the years while pursuing collaborations with formidable, eclectic talents. Aforementioned mixtape Hi This Is Flume proved to be the most fruitful of these ventures, a manic, SOPHIE-influenced piece that proved snarkier and edgier than his previous work (JPEGMafia and Slowthai features), though still approachable and upbeat. Now a few years removed (and yes, rocked by a year-long quarantine), Flume has returned to the studio album format, and delivers an even more refined take on the sound that has defined the majority of his career.
Once more collaborating with graphic designer/NFT artist Jonathan Zawada for the album art, listeners are greeted by a headshot of an eastern whipbird, (presumably) painted a digital dayglo. Zawada (who designed the cover for 2016’s Skin and its various subsequent EPs and remix albums) specializes in these sorts of uncanny/poppy, digitally manipulated portraits of fauna and flora, which happen to be the ideal avatars to represent this sort of music. Clocking in at a maybe just-too-long 46 minutes, the record is still a mostly breezy ride, coasting off the bombastic energy of Flume’s gleeful screeching EDM. Forgoing the rap-dabbling that has been a highlight of his last couple of releases in favor of more dance- and R&B-centric female vocalists, Palaces was apparently built from the final (title track) up, riffing off featured artist Damon Albarn’s contributions, while also drawing from field recordings, which inform the melodies and guest selection here. Ranging from the currently unstoppable Caroline Polachek (contributing ethereal vocals to “Sirens,” not unlike those on Harlecore’s DJ Ocean cuts) to stand-out discovery May-a on the album’s dramatic, lead single “Say Nothing.” But despite the variety of voices here, Flume mostly keeps his collaborators to delivering big hooks, written as effectively vague affirmations for modern times (the one diversion: Virgen María’s funny, sleazy hyperpop take “Only Fans”). It all works considerably well, even if it’s a bit less alluring than Hi This Is Flume’s genuine playfulness. But ultimately, the record’s straightforwardness doesn’t negate the catchiness of these songs, nor their generally affable qualities.
Published as part of Album Roundup — May 2022 | Part 4.