Tame Impala’s new album is singular, original and completely individual.
Kevin Parker’s evolution throughout his career as Tame Impala has been fascinating to follow: on the self-titled EP, he delivered stoned-out garage rock, which was turned into dizzying atmospheric psychedelia by being heaped and layered with pedals and effects on Innerspeaker. But the big guns would come out on the follow-up: Lonerism, with its vintage synthesisers and trippy riffs, Parker was able to create a bubble around the listener, putting them in the beautiful isolation that he had felt for so long and delivered a focussed, concentrated masterpiece for the ages. And so, after the numerous end-of-year lists, accolades and almost messianic praise, how do you follow up a masterpiece? The answer, as it turns out, is staring right at you.
Parker’s influence on modern rock, although he might not acknowledge it (or even know it exists), has been massive: a large amount of music released in the years following Innerspeaker has been based around, or had influence from, the psych sound that Parker brought back in 2010, like Temples, Childhood, The Wytches, King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard, Pond, Mini Mansions, Mac DeMarco, Arctic Monkeys, you name it. However, it’s clear from this record that he hadn’t been working as the figurehead of a neo-psychedelia movement as we first thought: he had simply been working alongside it, the genre going one way and him going the other. It’s almost as though he hasn’t acknowledged the fact that there is an entire genre coming back into rock music that he was a part of, particularly since Currents sounds like nothing else around at the moment.
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Parker’s blueprint for the album, on paper, is simple: mesh disco, synthpop and psychedelic pop together and see what happens, and what happens is compelling, sometimes bizarre, and utterly original, but, like his previous efforts, still showing respect for the artists he owes a debt to; The Less I Know The Better clearly takes a lot from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and I doubt you’ll find anyone who won’t readily admit that The Moment sounds like a stoner’s version of Everybody Wants To Rule The World by Tears For Fears. And yet, there are times, like on opening synth jam Let It Happen, when it’s not entirely clear where Parker is drawing influence from. The bombastic opening moments on Eventually gives just the same
impression: where did those synths come from? Is there anyone else who would be daring enough to use that kind of sound on a disco track? And what about that bizarre, deep-voiced robotic monologue on Past Life, or the radio effect on Disciples, or even just the opening synth of Nangs which, and I cannot stress this enough, is arguably my favourite moment on the album.
All this seems to point to Parker’s desire to be an artist on his own, an isolated genius who can weave lush, dense arrangements together and make something that, while clearly a different beast from its predecessor, shares the same intention of creating music that is an absolute dream to listen to while also being compelling and creatively rich. In fact, Currents actually does a job of elevating Lonerism to even higher heights than it had already reached because it suddenly makes us realise that Parker was not actually operating on the same level as the psychedelic rock happening around him, or even, in some sense, the psych rock that had come before, but instead as an individual creative mind, one who meditates on structure and obsesses over making each and every thing that he does as creative and densely packed as possible. Currents is merely a continuation of that, the first solid proof we have of Parker’s intention to be of a single mind, of his magnificent and unstoppable ambition. Many people have said that Parker’s intention is to push psychedelia in a new direction with Currents but I don’t think that is the intention at all: the self-absorption of the album and the lack of indication that he gave on previous releases of his desire to be among the other psych acts in the world both suggest to me that he instead has the intention of leaving everyone else behind and separate himself from everyone and everything.
The only major flaw I can attribute to this album is how it stands up to its predecessor: very few lyrical, musical or conceptual moments in Currents are nearly as hard hitting as those on Lonerism: there is no gut-wrenching emotional sucker punch as Parker resigns himself to being a loner forever like on Why Won’t They Talk To Me? or a roof-tearing drop like on Apocalypse Dreams or a jaw-dropping moment of meta-existentialism like on Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control and Keep On Lying. But then, maybe that’s the point. I suppose Parker’s resolution now is “why look back unless there’s something you can take forward with you?”
Currents, as stated by Parker himself, was made with the hope of making music to be played in clubs and for people to dance to, due to Parker’s supposed love for communal listening. And yet, somehow, it doesn’t feel as though he has made this music for anyone except himself. The album is endlessly creative, and exhibits Parker’s work as a singer, arranger, producer, and modern creative mind. While I can safely say that it is not nearly as earth-shattering as Lonerism, Currents may not be Tame Impala’s best album but it is arguably the most important to Parker’s merits in the past and his ambitions for the future; it is the moment when Parker is revealed to be not just the premiere psych act in the world but one of the most original and singular creative minds in music right now. Lord knows what he will do next.
Verdict: A lush, serene listening experience that deliberately distances itself from Parker’s previous works, and yet fits in perfectly as the next step in Tame Impala’s increasingly fruitful evolution.