Going outside means an entire world of difference now than it did in 2019. The pandemic, if anything, has made us appreciate what a luxury it is to be out in the world and what a privilege it can be to take in its (tragically dwindling) natural splendor. Creatively checked out and exhausted, Flume made the decision at the beginning of the pandemic to leave the once thriving musical hub of LA, now inert under lockdown, for his Australian homeland, settling down in the small coastal town of Byron Bay.
Hunkered down and surrounded by the Land Down Under's various flora and fauna, it was here that Flume would go on to flesh out his third studio album, Palaces. Fresh off back-to-back Grammy nominations, the producer — along with creative director and next-door neighbor, Jonathan Zawada — took inspiration from his surroundings. The duo incorporated field recordings and local wildlife, bringing to life a surreal visual world where Mother Nature has gone full Corpo in an attempt at self-preservation — set to some of Flume's most intricate and mindbendingly complex beats to-date.
Featuring a wide-ranging cast of contributors including the Gorillaz's Damon Albarn, Caroline Polachek, Oklou, MAY-A, KUČKA and more, Palaces is a record of sonic extremes. Building on the forward-thinking experimentalism of his previous mixtape, Hi This Is Flume, and the pop-leaning ambitions of his sophomore effort, Skin, the album comes as the next logical evolution for the artist. Using his features as a way to bridge that gap between his avant-garde productions and popish lyricism, the record sees Flume combing catchy anthemic hooks with glittering synths, concussive bass, lasers, glitchy breaks and hard-hitting drops that defy standard EDM convention.
An expert when it comes to using energetic barrages of sound and maximalist flash to achieve the same high impact intensity achieved by your standard EDM drop, Flume's foray into unfamiliar territory yields some of the record's more standout moments. From the album's lead single "Say Nothing," which sees the producer play with deceptively straight forward baile funk beats, to the sex positive dark-techno roller "Only Fans," featuring Madrid's Virgen Maria, which wouldn't feel out of place on an Arca record, Flume pushes his own boundaries.
A more muted counterpoint to the rest of the record, Palaces' title track is one of the more poignant moments. Flecked with chirping birds and an unearthly primal howl, "Palaces" sees the Blur frontman ride a rising tide of synth as he muses about the afterlife, singing "if outside is no more, the golden astroturf." The track embodies this strange balance between the natural and artificial; despite the multi-colored exotic birds and glossy motorcycle helmets, there's a twinge of melancholy to "Palaces'" oversaturated reverence for nature. All its splendor feels fleeting while climate change looms.
Even in the remote town of Byron Bay, the climate crisis still prove to be inescapable in Flume's far flung corner of the globe. "Australia's had a rough few years," the producer reflects. "It's the fires, the pandemic and then the floods this year, especially up where I live, like it's been an insane amount of rain. Climate change is alive and well in Australia."
Much in the same way that the pandemic has made us look back fondly on the days when we could go to the park without the fear of contracting a potentially fatal plague, Palaces' technicolor celebration of nature is a morbid reminder of a rapidly dwindling reality. This isn't to say that Palaces should be regarded some high falutin concept album — Flume would be the first to tell you the music isn't that deep, cheekily retorting to a question about the kinds of sounds he played with on the record, "Did you listen to the album? Yeah, those ones." The dance pop record, rather, finds its place as a post-pandemic album without ascribing to any greater moralizing message.
To celebrate the release of Flume's third studio album, Palaces, PAPER caught up with the producer to talk inspiration, collaborators and his favorite piece of Australian fauna.
How did the road to Palaces begin?
I just worked on stuff on my own, sometimes with other people and kind of collected a bunch of ideas over the years. Then COVID happened and I wasn't feeling particularly creative. So I flew back to Australia and kind of moved back to a place called Byron Bay, which is, like, two hours south of Brisbane or nine hours north of Sydney. So not really much around that. I basically moved to the countryside and I had all these kinds of ideas and bits and pieces that had started. I was able to just finish stuff and that's when things came together.
I wanted to dig into the decision to move back to Australia and to the countryside, what was the thinking there?
I mean, it was pretty shitty where I was in LA, it was pretty dark and I was worried about COVID, I was worried about my parents getting COVID. I was just generally kind of thinking, “what am I doing here?” I moved there for work and none of that was really happening. So like a lot of other people, I moved back to at least the country I grew up in. It was the best thing ever, honestly. It was really good for my creativity.
How did that sort of environment influence make its way onto the record?
There's a lot of recordings from on the property of the birds and the creek, where it rains, and there’s a lot of foliage. I kind of wanted to incorporate that into it. Because that's where the record physically came together. I wanted to try and show that and take the listener to where I was. Jonathan [Zawada] does the art for the project and he’s kind of come up with a lot of the worlds that we feature on the album. We were just always fascinated by the birdlife. It's kind of a subtropical area and there’s a lot of amazing migrating birds there.
What sort of ideas were you playing with on the album?
Well, I mean, it's like a bunch of collaborations with other people and there's not really a strict narrative throughout the record. We wanted to build out this world, at least the visual world, and make it really feel cohesive. I was speaking to Jonathan for a while about this idea: What if Mother Nature somehow owned a Fortune500 company? What would Mother Nature invest in? Then we were thinking, well, it's probably things that are detrimental to human existence or preventative. Because as we all know, it's kind of what's destroying Mother Nature the most. So then we created this motorbike rider, and we were like, let's do the branding with a condom brands or vasectomy brands or euthanasia companies. Maybe it's as obvious as Greenpeace or maybe one of the world's largest arms dealers. There's a logo of that in there. There’s just all sorts of interesting kinds of angles to look at the world through, so we base the world on that and build it out from there.
Touching on the collaborations, there’s some new faces and some old, how did those come about?
I've been a huge fan of Damon Albarn, with Blur and Gorillaz growing up, it was always one of my biggest inspirations, or he was, and I'd always wanted to work with him and I actually managed to get in touch with him. We did some music in Vegas, we both played the same festival and then afterwards, we got in the studio together. I played him a bunch of ideas and he was not particularly into any of them at first. But I just kept playing them hoping that he'd be into something eventually and then finally, what I think was the second last idea, he was like, "yep, this one, let's do something on this." I was sweating there for a while but we worked on that there and then continued working on it at another point. I love working with Kučka. She's Australian, as well and we've done something on almost every single full length release except for the first record. We don't even work together that much but when we do, it just seems to work. So who else? Oh, yeah. Mary Lou, oklou. Big fan of her work. Just hit her up on Instagram and I just sent her some ideas back and forth online. That was during COVID.
What are you hoping people take away from listening to this record?
I really wanted to try and kind of combine elements of pop, but also more left field kind of production stuff. I hope that maybe people will be able to see pop through a slightly different lens. I’m not necessarily trying to take a strong angle on anything really. I'm just trying to make some fun music that I really want to listen to and I hope others do too. I hope it brings some joy or whatever.
What is your favorite Australian animal?
We got to kind of throw the kangaroo in there, of course. But for this record, we were really quite inspired by the local wildlife, especially the birds. All the birds on the covers are native Australian ones. I mean, maybe the Lyrebird? The Lyredbird has this amazing ability can mimic any sound that you throw at it. So say it's a chainsaw sound. It will be able to recreate it. Its also on the ten cent coin. But that was the cover for “Sirens.”
Photography: Zac Bayly
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