Review: Flume - Hi This Is Flume

The Australian electronic-music producer and streaming behemoth signals a shift in his approach with a surprise mixtape featuring appearances from JPEGMAFIA and SOPHIE.

In a “visualizer” accompanying his career-high mixtape Hi This Is Flume, the Australian electronic producer drives a car decorated in kaleidoscopic metal panels, like something that the pastel-obsessed pop artist Bridget Riley might create for MTV’s “Pimp My Ride.” When the vehicle needs refueling, he cracks open a can of La Croix and dumps it into the gas tank. The appearance of the mildly flavored, urbanite-favored seltzer here is clearly meant to be at least partly tongue in cheek. But there’s something fitting about it, too: Of course Flume would drink La Croix.

Despite his work with inventive artists like Vince Staples and Lorde(and a Grammy to his name), Harley Streten’s music as Flume has often felt like bait for audiences who have moved on from the soft-focus EDM of the influential YouTube channel Majestic Casual but still prefer to keep their listening lite. His mega-popular pillowybangers are engineered for broad appeal, often possessing the “soft, emo-y, cutesy” simplicity that one streaming-first producer, speaking anonymously to Liz Pelly in The Baffler, recognized as playlisting catnip.

Hi This Is Flume is set up to self-consciously dismantle the view of Streten as making music optimized for the algorithm. The mixtape’s title has a pointed sense of re-introduction, like the pop superstar who indicates, with a self-titled album years into an established career, that she is pushing the reset button. One song, the bright, chime-strewn “Ecdysis,” is even named after the process of a snake shedding its epidermis. (Streten’s previous full-length was titled Skin, geddit?) Underscoring this message is Hi This Is Flume’s opening title track, a spoken-word novelty which parodies streaming platform commercials. “Tap the artwork to listen and save to your own music collection,” Streten says with satirical faux-buoyancy. Then he screams.

Hi This Is Flume is, both philosophically and sonically, an inflection point. Seventeen cohesive tracks nudge the needle on Streten’s sound, with frequent jump cuts from dismantled clubby beats to pogo-inducing drops and thick bass, while generally keeping his gifts for emotive melodies in the foreground. The bulk of the mixtape’s tracks circle the two-minute mark, giving the sense of a sketched roadmap to a new outlook (Streten has already promised“more music to come”). “Dreamtime,” a vortex of white noise with feathery vocal effects, could soundtrack a Coachella documentary filmed by David Lynch, while the synths of “Jewel” take on an uncanny vocaloid quality, a little like the melodic manipulations of Battles’ “Atlas.” At other times, a certain scrappiness would be welcome: less airtight momentum, more negative space. “Wormhole,” for all its Call of Duty lock-and-load effects, never quite feels sinister, and the siren-like textures of “Daze 22.00” aren’t as trippy as the title promises. Hi This Is Flume’s fragment-like moments might take on more dynamic and emotive tension if Streten allowed himself more complex arrangements, or track lengths with more room to maneuver.

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Review: Jayda G - Significant Changes

The Canadian DJ, producer, and environmental toxicologist bridges worlds on her debut album, weaving orcas’ songs and conservationist messages into deep-diving tracks aimed at inclusive dancefloors.

Jayda Guy’s academic work and musical output have a common goal: Both are designed to make people to think about how they interact with their environments. The Canadian musician presented her master’s thesis about the effects of certain chemicals on an endangered West Coast orca species last year, and she recently started a talk series featuring young scientists. As Jayda G, she’s been responsible for some of the most rapturous disco house to come out of the “Canadian Riviera” scene, and she has captivated crowds worldwide with her uninhibited DJ style. Let other selectors squabble about sharing track IDs and unwarranted wheel-ups—she’d rather concentrate on providing the soundtrack for cathartic, electronic device-free boogieing.

Following a string of excellent EPs and singles on labels including 1080p, Geography Records, and her own JMG Recordings, Significant Changes is the Berlin-based producer’s debut album. Like much of Guy’s previous work, the nine tracks here draw on influences including Chicago house, soul, disco, and 1990s R&B, but her references to the natural world this time around are more overt. Recorded while she was finishing her studies, its bookending intro (“Unifying the Center (Abstract)”) and outro (“Conclusion”) read like parts of a scientific paper; it’s not surprising that there’s a sense of ecological urgency underpinning many of these songs.

In interviews, Guy has frequently expressed her desire to bridge her two passions, and one way she achieves this is by turning field recordings into unexpectedly poignant melodies. The instrumental centerpiece “Orca’s Reprise” is built around the marine mammals’ cries, but the producer smartly avoids new-age chintziness. “Missy Knows What’s Up” takes the concept one step further, sampling the ominous words of Canadian biologist Misty MacDuffee (“Why are these whales threatened and what are we going to do about it?”), and setting them to a thumping backbone.

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Review: Marvin Gaye - You’re the Man

Recorded in 1972, this largely unreleased “lost” album is a fascinating glimpse into what one of the great 20th-century artists strategically allowed the culture to see.

Morally right-on, emotionally vulnerable, and still musically avant-garde, Marvin Gaye’s previously unreleased 1972 album You’re the Man is the timeless sound of a combustible rhythm and blues. Just from the title track’s first few seconds of wah-wah guitar, the album beams us directly into the heart of what a Jet magazine writer in 1972 once called “the new Black sound”—that rising tide of politically urgent, progressive Top 40 soul music like the O’Jays’ “Backstabbers,” the Staples Singers’ “This World,” the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” and Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly soundtrack extravaganza “Freddie’s Dead.”

Here’s the thing: You’re the Man is still the New Black Sound of today. It’s no less pressing and cutting-edge than Donald Glover’s racial satire “This is America” and it’s no less warmly interior or black community-minded than Solange’s proggy When I Get Home. Gaye’s 1972 anti-Nixon clapbacks on You’re the Man —such as “demagogues and admitted minority haters should never be president”—could just as easily apply to the ghastly failings of today’s crooked Trump administration.

In the 1970s, Gaye emerged as a seer, digging for deep grooves in the effort to realize an all-inclusive, democratic world that still seems beyond our reach. Troubled by imperial war, hypocritical governments, exclusionary racial policies, and looming ecological disasters, Marvin Gaye was the musician-as-dissident, striving for liberation that he himself never personally managed to achieve during his lifetime. Along the way, he demonstrated immense range. Within the course of a single album, Gaye could come off as conscious, pensive, concerned, driven, committed, topical, tough, sexy, urbane, hypnotic, tortured, troubled, hip, religious, defiant, disillusioned, high-flying, defiant, blunted, and compassionate.

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Review: The Drums - Brutalism

The latest album from the Drums—now just frontman Jonny Pierce—is his most honest and most unvarnished.

o hear frontman Jonny Pierce tell it, his fifth album as the DrumsBrutalism, is his most honest effort yet. Something is indeed new and different on Brutalism, but it isn’t Pierce’s obsessive self-examination, nor the A-B-A-B-schemed verses, nor even the fact that it’s the first Drums album to use a live drummer, as its beats remain as simple as always and the difference is barely detectable. What’s different here is that Pierce’s best trick—bailing the Drums out of all the above criticisms with undeniable hooks—is practically absent. Pierce has described Brutalism as a brave, necessary shedding of a false persona he felt forced to maintain ever since the Drums suddenly exploded into one of America’s most-hyped bands. Many others will just hear a lowering of the bar for what qualifies as a finished song.

Brutalism marks the second Drums album with Pierce as the sole member. Looking back on the intensity of their first couple years as young Brooklyn upstarts—from a ridiculous and irrefutably infectious debut single, to becoming one of the most Shazam’d artists of that year, to the subsequent and mysteriously contentious departure of their lead guitarist—it’s a small miracle that we have a Drums album to talk about at all in 2019, and maybe to no one more than Pierce: “I like the idea of putting out a few strong albums then going away forever,” he said in 2011. But Brutalism is a Drums album by technicality, as Pierce is now settled into a familiar path for 21st-century indie-pop bands, one taken somewhat recently by The Shins’ James MercerClap Your Hands Say Yeah’s Alec Ounsworth, and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s Kip Berman: trudging forth with sole custody of a defunct band’s name. Everyone in this club has since produced mixed results, and Brutalism doesn’t inspire much confidence that the good will outweigh the unnecessary in this phase of the Drums.

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Review: BTS - MAP OF THE SOUL : PERSONA

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The biggest K-pop group in the world try to move their sound forward but spend too much time leaning on their past.

BTS are the superheroes of K-pop, a group of seven young South Korean men—RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook—who have carried the boy-band torch into the global arena. Formed in 2013, BTS cut their teeth making rap-centric tracks at a time when hip-hop was just beginning to dominate the Korean music scene. Fans were quickly drawn to their musical self-sufficiency, socially conscious messaging, and the high-art references of their visuals. Last year, their studio album Love Yourself 轉 ‘Tear’ became the first Korean album to ever top the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, earning them a new level of acclaim rarely seen by “international” artists; the superheroes won the day.

With the seven-song MAP OF THE SOUL : PERSONA, BTS are trying to blaze a path forward, further securing their foothold in commercial pop while proving to diehards that they’re still high-minded outsiders who preface their music videos with Herman Hesse quotes and reference Carl Jung with the best of them. But the album suffers from sequel syndrome and suggests that the Bangtan Boys are too willing to lean on their past accomplishments. The arrangements on PERSONA are busy and convoluted, and many lyrical highlights are buried in meta, self-referential schlock rock.

The album is bookended with songs built around the kind of inelegant instrumentation you’d find in royalty-free music or internal corporate videos, with big guitars and drums that sound as if they’ve been airlifted in from a downloadable sampler pack. In the case of “Intro : Persona,” the production is built around a recycled beat from the opening track of BTS’ 2014 debut. But to a new listener lacking context, the song comes across as sour and stale, which is a shame considering bandleader RM waxes poetic about his imposter syndrome and recapturing his motivation to pursue music. Meanwhile, “Dionysus” moves from stadium-ready fuzz to a shoehorned trap section to a contrived breakdown, with the members sounding as if they’re being dragged along rather than leading with their voices. And yet this closing track contains the most fascinating lyrics of the whole project.

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