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Flume: Palaces Album Review

By Christopher C Tennant

This is a self-published sample of my long-form journalistic work, written in September 2022.

As a long-time Flume fan, I was surprised this weekend to find that he had a new album out. I’ve listened to Flume’s music since he was a newbie on Pandora Radio, hardly out of college. But after finally giving it a listen, as well as doing some additional research, I began to realize how I’d missed it. Here’s my review of Palaces, Flume’s third studio album.

After finishing touring for Skin (2016) and Hi This is Flume (2019), Harley Streten, better known as Flume, moved to just south of Brisbane, Australia, where he says he found "inspiration from the flora and fauna surrounding him" in the forests of the Northern Rivers area. His use of recorded and distorted bird sounds is evident within the album, and the album is described by Streten as being about "feelings of post relationship clarity". The album was recorded throughout 2020, finishing production in early 2021, and releasing this past May.

Upon first listen, the album stands out as strong and optimistic, a stark contrast from much of his previous work, which focused on feelings of irritation and regret. Palaces doesn’t open with intensity, instead choosing to focus on an uplifting opener in “Highest Building”. Followed immediately by the album’s lead single “Say Nothing”, Palaces feels like it’s off to the right start, with bird sounds evident and the classic distortions and oscillations that typify Flume’s music taking center stage.

This goes well until we get to the third track, titled “DHLC”, featuring only high-pitched instrumentals. The sounds here are a little bit jarring, and this is where the majority of the album remains for nearly the next thirty minutes until the outro. It isn’t pretty.

My impressions from here were that the songs do not blend as seamlessly as Skin nor Hi This is Flume (granted that the former is a mixtape). The bird sounds are flavorful, but don’t always sound natural, evident easily in “DHLC” and “ESCAPE”. In each of these we can easily hear the famous birds of various nature documentaries being ripped apart and modified to make a beat, but the sound it produces is awkward.

Continuing on through the album, the change in tone from Streten’s previous work is evident. Whereas Skin focused primarily on the theme of relationships being distorted and destroyed, and Hi This Is Flume featured a mixture of emotions, primarily loss of polarity as we age, Palaces makes a very distinct and noticeable change to focus on an entirely different palette of emotions. This is noticeable often throughout the album, while still retaining the "ugly" tone Flume has developed through most his art. As we listen to “Get U”, we get a sense of irritation and distortion, but this is followed up immediately by “Jasper’s Song”, a much lighter and more uplifting instrumental featuring a piano. "Jasper's Song" feels unique among Flume’s pieces, showing us a side of the artist we have yet to see since Flume (2012), at this point a decade old.

But this tone is then ruined by “Only Fans”, an awkward and not-at-all beautiful piece about Latina phone-sex. This is also a side of Streten we didn’t know before, though not one I think I was asking to know either.

The album draws to a close with a mellower tone after this, using lighter, less intrusive tones in “Hollow”, “Love Light”, and “Sirens”, the last of which contains some very beautiful and haunting vocals from American singer Caroline Polachek. The album then closes with the only distinctly nature-focused songs on the nature themed album, “Go” and “Palaces”, both of which capture a similar salutatory tone as the outros of his previous albums and mixtapes.

By the end of the album, I can't help feel that Flume could have done a bit better. With the exception of “Say Nothing”, the majority of Palaces tends to feel somewhat flat, seeming more like a different flavor of his past work than a true evolution or maturation of it. Not all the songs feel like they’re capturing a post-relationship clarity, as some (“Only Fans”, “DHLC”), seem to capture something entirely different, not the clarity of bliss the album was supposedly built around. While the album does present a much calmer set of songs than Skin, Hi This is Flume, and the Quits (2019), this doesn’t seem to be a method Flume is good at delivering. But while Palaces may not be Flume’s strongest work, it’s still a worthy and varied addition to the Flume portfolio, given the dramatic and generally edgy feel of previous albums.

And perhaps that's it. Perhaps my misgivings are because Palaces feels less ambitious than Flume’s other work, even given that it was recorded during the pandemic. Instrumental songs “DHLC” and Get U” weren’t as strong or as innovative compared to past instrumentals like “Ecdysis” or “Wall Fuck”, though “Jasper’s Song” was pleasant, and “Go” was a good thrust in a new direction. In most these instances though, better, more varied sounds used during production would have made the biggest difference. While almost every distorted or oscillated sound in Palaces is a sub-tropical bird, Skin featured distortions of a rock falling down a pipe, a match striking, or a person pulling on a roll of duct tape. Quite frankly, those noises, when distorted, did a much better job of personifying the feel of their respective album than did the twisted chirps and trills seen in Palaces, which are bizarre and obnoxious by comparison, and without the intended effect of elation, ecstasy, or escapism one might expect to feel on an album themed around hope.

Perhaps instead of using birds so regularly, we could have had additional clips to listen to, such as Tasmanian devil sounds, ocean waves crashing, or music done by an Aboriginal artist. All of this would have helped to better draw out an otherwise untapped potential of the Australian continent, something I feel Flume could do very well if he tried.

In the end, Palaces doesn’t necessarily feel like a maturation of Flume’s previous work, but rather a different flavor of the same thing, possibly with less of an aftertaste to it. After finishing it, I felt that I wanted more, being left with the question of where Streten’s “post-relationship clarity” really took him. I guess maybe one day we’ll find out, if only he’d communicate more clearly in the next album.

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