Few projects released this year have opened with a sound as remarkably of the here and now as Hi This Is Flume. The 28-second title track begins with Flume clearing his throat and introducing himself, only to quickly be bombarded by a sea of similar recordings, morphing into a collage of continuously collapsing Flumes all vying for attention. It’s as if your iTunes has malfunctioned and launched a dozen Beats 1 stations simultaneously, or your laptop’s text to speech tool has aggressively fought to become sentient but experienced some serious hiccups along the way. It is both irreverent and off-putting, two qualities that have come to define the Australian producer’s body of work as a whole but particularly this extremely refreshing and light-footed release.
This duality is made readily apparent as soon as the alarming opening chorus of Flume-bots gives way to the amorphous dream state of “Ecdysis.” An inviting line of synth hovers into focus, plinking and shimmering like a constellation of stars; almost harp-like in their fragility. And just as it begins to settle, it is met by an antithetical assault from below, a barrage of swatting sub lines that evoke the drone of a passing wasp. For just under two minutes these elemental forces coexist even as one swoops and dives into the other. It’s an interplay that sets the tone both aesthetically and structurally for the ensuing mixtape; snatches of music seemingly at odds with itself that finds balance only in its incessant drive for plunging into the next sonic mélange as quickly as possible.
The definition of a true mixtape has perhaps never meant less in the landscape of musical multiplicity we currently inhabit, yet Hi This Is Flume is a stark reminder of the strengths the format can provide. Where a 17-track collection consisting of zany instrumentals, a remix of a nearly year-old SOPHIE track, and a few stopovers into avant-garde rap territory would otherwise suffer from a lack of narrative cohesion, embracing the mixtape structure makes these forays feel not only natural but logical. It has given Flume the freedom to play, a quality that is immediately felt across each moment of the project. Compared to his last solo release, the well-crafted but laboriously overwrought 2016 album Skins, Hi This Is Flume immediately opens up to the ear, at once more accessible and more mature than anything he’s put his name to since his self-titled 2012 debut.
Similarly, many of the best tracks on the tape engage in an act of blossoming across their skint runtimes. “Upgrade” opens with a jittery set of ascending and descending scales buoyed by clipped vocal samples, only to gradually add percussive hand claps and low-end beats with each repetition. By track’s end it has added about four other variations, turning the whole enterprise into a proper shakedown before vanishing as quickly as it congealed together. The same goes for the largely ambient “Dreamtime,” a song which quietly builds to its melodic crescendo at the exact point it begins to dissipate, and for “Daze 22.00,” which finds a blurry of static and thunderous beats at the forefront eventually morph and trade places with its instrumental passages.
The twin highlights of Hi This Is Flume are the tracks punctuated by the appearance of two of today’s most invigorating rap talents. “High Beams” finds the always-frenetic slowthai spitting over a beat that hisses like pistons in a steam engine. Interestingly, the chorus here is wordless, consisting of a woozy keyboard line which puts all the more emphasis on the grating urgency of slowthai’s verses concerning his come up. Meanwhile, the JPEGMAFIA-featuring “How to Build a Relationship” is the undeniable win of the entire project. JPEG’s bars are unsurprisingly top notch, but the magic lies in Flume expertly recalling the dark, angular beats of the rapper’s 2018 project Veteran without plundering them outright. This is a truly exceptional work of production; the moment halfway through the track when the beat fades out entirely only to be replaced with a wholly new one, only to be replaced again by dead silence while JPEG yells “FUCK!” is a masterstroke of subverting expectations.
Make no mistake, Hi This Is Flume is a great listen, but outside of the aforementioned rap collaborations, the mixtape struggles to feel especially fresh. Specifically, many of the beats Flume crafts here feel akin to the work being done by PC Music and SOPHIE. Of course, this comparison is encouraged by the actual presence of SOPHIE on this tape, not to mention the remix of her OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES track “Is It Cold in the Water?,” which ultimately fails to justify its existence entirely. The collection of beats on display here are top notch, but they only ever stimulate when Flume adds an MC to the proceedings. Given the strength of the tracks here, not to mention his recent work with the likes of Vince Staples, one wonders if Flume’s work is not better suited as a piece of a greater whole rather than the whole itself.