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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Say Nothing" does all the talking itself

Flume's new release is chock-full of fascinating details as he plays with time and musical space.

Okay, back to normal-length songs... and back to new releases.

It's unusual for me to stick with the same genre or general style for consecutive days on this blog, but "Dance / Electronic" is a big umbrella, and "Caliban's Dream" is nothing like today's entry. Gone is of the more serene, indie side of the electronic world from yesterday's post, in favor of a more aggressive, pop-like sound from a producer who is no stranger to adventurous sonic designs: Sydney, Australia's Flume.

Harley Edward Streten, aka Flume, was at the forefront of future bass' surge to popularity in the mid-10s, but he never stayed strictly in that sound or any other, and he's shifting gears again for his upcoming third album, Palaces. "Say Nothing" is the lead single from the new record, and it features fellow Australian MAY-A on vocals. MAY-A lays a healthy dose of "feelings of post-relationship clarity" over an instrumental that builds to a dense, percussion-heavy climax with each chorus... but before all the drums, the unique opening hooked me.

After a slight ambient swell, MAY-A sings her opening lyric, which in turn is followed by an alarm-like beeping. The "alarm" strikes me as a snapping back to the aforementioned "post-relationship clarity" and resultant feelings of disappointment. This feeling is strengthened by the "alarm" not being in time with the rest of the song — it's slightly slower. The sound starts on the first beat of a new measure, but being just a few ticks under the track's tempo of 130 beats per minute, it falls out of time, leading to a jarring effect when the synths return to start the next phrase.

I love how Flume plays with his listeners' perceptions of time in the opening and throughout the first verse. With the vast majority of popular music (especially on the electronic side) being so groove- and rhythm-oriented, it isn't a surprise that time is something largely kept steady in most productions. Sure, there may be a measure or two added in or taken out somewhere, but when that's done the tempo remains the same; likewise, when changes do occur, largely in the form of a slowdown (ritardando if you want to be technical), they're made quite obvious. What Flume does in the opening of "Say Nothing" is quite different: he purposefully makes the beat less clear by leaving the slower alarm as the only rhythmic element, then reveals his sonic deceit after two measures. Perhaps MAY-A's narrator isn't wanting to wake up and face the world after heartbreak, but has to do so because it's the only way forward in life; or perhaps the reinstatement of the synth is the "post-relationship clarity" in itself. I can definitely hear it both ways, especially once percussion enters in the second verse and the alarm's slower tempo becomes even clearer.

The pre-chorus is when the track really begins to open up. As MAY-A sings of "see[ing] daylight" when her past love is gone, a warm synth pad slowly opens up, an effect I often hear (as I do here) as evoking a sunrise. A metallic, percussive sound — almost like hitting a metal rail with a drumstick — propels "Say Nothing" into its chorus. There, the pad opens up in full, an additional bass layer enters, and (as I promised) when the percussion really takes hold. It's amazing just how dense even two more drum lines makes the chorus feel. A thumpy kick drum grounds the higher percussion, while a trap snare provides syncopation on the first two beats before hitting right on the fourth. The snare does so much work to make the beat dense, yet active, and a lot of that comes down to something extra Flume does with it: panning. An under-appreciated tool in producers' arsenals, panning is the way in which a piece of audio is distributed across multiple channels, such as in a typical stereo format. The first two snare hits of each measure are panned narrowly and in the center, but the last is panned widely to both the left and right sides. The result is a beat that constantly feels like it's moving, closing and reopening as the chorus progresses.

All the while, MAY-A's lyrics speak to moving forward after heartbreak, leaving things unsaid if necessary. If the other elements that make up the track are anything to go by, extra verbal reflection is often unnecessary when preceding events speak for themselves, especially when said events have hurt others. To this effect, "Say Nothing" is a song embodying someone's working through a breakup that is continuing to weigh on them. It may not be a pleasant experience for someone to go through, but Flume certainly sets it to a more than pleasant beat that captures the various layers of such an internal conflict.


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