It has been nearly half a decade since the album known as Currents was released by Australian Neo-Psychedelia outfit Tame Impala.
Before we get into this whole pavlova, we must address what Tame Impala actually is. Tame Impala is, in actuality, one individual in the form of the multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker who, for every one of Tame Impala’s albums, sings every song, plays every instrument, and produces every track. When Kevin Parker tours, however, he does so with the help of a band of musicians who play all the other parts that Kevin Parker – multi-talented as he no doubt is – is unable to play at the same time without the aid of many other appendages.
Between Currents and the release of the latest album The Slow Rush, Tame Impala has not only been touring, but has exploded in popularity. The “dorky, white disco funk” track ‘The Less I Know the Better’ was an international hit, bringing Kevin Parker previously unthought-of levels of fame and success in the music industry – helped exceedingly by its use in a plethora of Tik-Tok videos.
Another moment during this album gap that is worth noting in the trajectory of Tame Impala was Rihanna’s cover of the Currents track ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’ on her 2016 album Anti (albeit renamed to ‘Same Ol’ Mistakes)*. At the time, this was very exciting for Kevin Parker. One must realise that, up until Currents, Tame Impala was considered mildly popular psychedelic indie – the biggest hit being the Lennonesque dreamscape of ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ and the thumping fuzz-rocker ‘Elephant’ on their second album Lonerism.
*Amusingly, after Rihanna fans discovered Tame Impala’s original version of ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’, there was a small but dedicated contingent who were criticising Tame Impala for “ripping off” Rihanna – believing Rihanna’s to have been the original.
The fact that, with the release of Currents, several well-known R&B and hip hop artists were taking note of – and inspiration from – Tame Impala’s output has been instrumental to the newly found level of international exposure.
The main reason for this, in my view, has been due to the change in musical direction. The first two albums, Innerspeaker and Lonerism, consisted of straight-up psychedelic rock – a cross between The Beatles à la Revolver/Sgt.Pepper/Magical Mystery Tour, early Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, and The Beach Boys. With Currents, Tame Impala’s sound drifted more towards psychedelic disco funk. The moreish bass-grooves, combined with the textural experimentation tendencies of their psychedelic rock history caught the ear of many prominent hip hop artists.
A$AP Rocky sampled the Tame Impala track ‘Why Won’t You Make up Your Mind?’ in his song ‘Sundress’, as well as sampling ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ in ‘Unicorn’. For Divergent’s official soundtrack, Kendrick Lamar also used ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ in the song ‘Backwards’. Tyler, The Creator has been known to go on sporadic Twitter and interview rants, going on about the “genius” of Kevin Parker/Tame Impala.
This is nothing to snort at, considering that the inevitable domination of hip hop as a genre has certainly scuffed the feathers of hardcore rock fans. Kevin Parker can be seen to be the figurative olive branch between the two genres.
Now we get to the oxymoronic but fittingly named The Slow Rush – Tame Impala’s fourth album, released last month. The disco funk sound of Currents has continued, exhibiting Parker’s obsession with leading basslines as well as swapping out fuzz-drenched electric guitar with polished piano licks and the like.
One constant, however, is the vibe-heavy flanging synths that underpin almost every track of the album, thereby reassuring any die-hard Tame Impala fans that their psychedelic roots haven’t been completely abandoned. Polished piano licks in mind, the album’s track ‘Breathe Deeper’ sounds like a long-lost smooth R&B track from 1988 – the glistening interplay between the rising piano and choppy bassline evoking the likes of Rick James or Bobby Brown.
This nod or – more fittingly – this bow to 80s R&B is perpetuated in the form of the track ‘Lost in Yesterday’ wherein a quirky, Michael Jackson-inspired bassline cradles Parker’s vocals which convey nostalgia for “the grind” of his early music career. It also highlights the famously introverted Kevin Parker’s concern regarding people’s expectations of his musical output with his latest offering, often finding himself “lost” in the “yesterday” of his career.
The 70s disco of ‘Is it True’ returns Parker lyrically to the subject matter of his prior album Currents – an album that primarily concerned itself with love – specifically the end of a relationship. ‘Is it True’ acts as a bookend for Currents in the sense that it addresses his newly found love and subsequent marriage. The bongo drums and robotic main riff give off a curiously Daft Punk-vibe, which, although unexpected, wasn’t unwelcome.
The album doesn’t consist entirely of punchy basslines and formulaic tactile song structures, though. The haziness that would normally work in tandem with these elements in previous Tame Impala songs has somewhat been extracted and funnelled into songs of their own. The lo-fi percussion and nebulous shuddering synth-flange of the album’s opening track ‘One More Year’, as well as the unobtrusive bass-drum loop and synth chord progression of the album’s penultimate track ‘Glimmer’, could be easily mistaken for 90s Ibiza-era trance.
These songs, as well as ‘On Track’, remind me somewhat of this rather niche subgenre of Youtube music videos whereby people, at the behest of the whole melancholic nostalgia evoked in vaporwave, upload altered versions of songs so that they sound like they are playing in different acoustic environments.
This has ranged from the rather innocent ‘Africa’ by Toto playing in an empty shopping centre, to the rather dark ‘Mr. Brightside’ by The Killers playing whilst your parents are arguing downstairs about their divorce, and you’re crying. They seem to be made for the purpose of having on in the background whilst you do something else – a ‘vibe-maker’ if you will, in the same vein as the now meme-infamous ‘lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to’.
The evidence for this take is supported further by the fact that the track ‘Glimmer’ begins with a segment from a podcast that Parker happened to be listening to when making the album, admitting in an interview with triple j’s Lucy Smith: “I can’t listen to music whilst making music. Even elevator music. I love the sound of people talking. In fact, there’s a thing on the album at the start of track 11 that is actually from a podcast that I was listening to of these two guys talking, and I dunno why, but I just felt compelled to put it on the album.”
Lyrically, Parker predominantly explored himself and his inner thoughts in Innerspeaker, his feelings of isolation in Lonerism, and his heartbreak in Currents. This time, the lyrics and the overall theme has become much broader insomuch as it mainly concerns itself with the concept of time. The entire album consists of Parker’s Proustian ruminations on his past, the arguably Diogenesian preoccupations he has with living in the moment, and his Nabokovian dreams of the future.
One glance at the tracklisting of The Slow Rush will reveal how much time as a concept has been weighing on Parker’s mind vis-à-vis the tracks ‘One More Year’, ‘Tomorrow’s Dust’, ‘Lost in Yesterday’, ‘It Might be Time’, and ‘One More Hour’. Fittingly, the album cover for The Slow Rush is that of a house slowly filling with sand.
Parker has correctly noted the seemingly paradoxical way in which things seem to endlessly stretch before and after him, and yet, at the same time, he finds that not only has yesterday become several years ago, but next year is in a few minutes time. The irony of something far away suddenly appearing out of nowhere – like that Sir Lancelot running scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail – is perfectly captured in the album’s title The Slow Rush.
And while it’s very much my fondness for psychedelic rock talking, I too am consumed with nostalgia, but for Tame Impala’s sound in Innerspeaker and Lonerism. One could make the argument that Parker’s music as of late has regressed to a simpler, less complex, more populist sound. The signs were plain to see for those paying attention.
In November 2015, for triple j, Tame Impala performed a cover of Kylie Minogue’s 1994 single ‘Confide in Me’. Also, whilst acting as co-host with Annie Mac on Radio 1 in the December of last year, Parker supplied the show’s playlist with a smörgåsbord of tracks he had become recently enamoured by. Songs by the likes of Kendrick Lamar, MGMT, Lauryn Hill, and Blood Orange, to name but a few.
Most notably, however, among these selections were tunes by Mariah Carey, Sister Sledge, and the Bee Gees. Parker also mentioned how he had been obsessing over the sound and aesthetics of pure bubblegum pop, noting how he always wanted to strive for its “polished, shiny” quality that can “instantly hook you in”, albeit projected through the kaleidoscopic lens of his psychedelic rock predilections.
The textural complexity, time-signature experimentations, and jazz-like improvisations with the creative drum-fills and electric guitar solos have been replaced with groovy and yet unchanging basslines and catchy but occasionally bland riffs. Songs that used to challenge you sonically now coax you into an almost low dream-state – which is great in small doses, but becomes rather grating when the entirety of the album does this to some degree.
That isn’t to say that the album isn’t enjoyable. It is. There is a lot to get from this latest venture, and many a playlist will be chock-full of cuts from this album. But, like Parker, I too look ahead at Tame Impala’s future and have hope for what’s to come.