19 Jul 2015
Tame Impala "Currents"
Reviewed by Maggie Danna
Kevin Parker takes Tame Impala’s sound in a new direction with "Currents", embracing disco and soulful electronica. As each of the four singles (“Let It Happen”, “‘Cause I’m A Man”, “Eventually”, and “Disciples”) was released this spring, it became apparent that Parker was doing something significantly different, and truly spectacular. While his transition to ethereal dance music caused concern for some enthusiasts of the band’s earlier, rock-based sound, "Currents" actually contains some of the band's best music so far. In “Yes I’m Changing” Parker invites the listener to take part in the metamorphosis; “Yes I'm changing, yes I'm gone/Yes I'm older, yes I'm moving on/And if you don’t think it’s a crime you can come along, with me.”
In a recent interview with The Guardian, Parker stated that he was significantly influenced by the Bee Gees while listening to “Staying Alive”, explaining, “The beat felt overwhelmingly strong and, at that moment, it sounded pretty psychedelic. It moved me, and that’s what I always want out of psych music. I want it to transport me.” This is exactly what psychedelic music should do, and what makes Tame Impala’s sound so powerful. It is extremely successful in grabbing your attention, drawing you in, and seriously moving you.
Introspection and the continually fluctuating dynamics of oneself are major themes in "Currents", though this is not an album based on, or intended for solitude in the way that "Innerspeaker" and "Lonerism" were. "Innerspeaker", Tame Impala’s first LP, hinged upon seclusion and the celebration of introversion, summed up in the title of “Solitude Is Bliss” and its triumphant line, “There’s a party in my head and no one is invited”, while "Lonerism" focused on the often distressing sensation of being an outsider. "Currents" on the other hand is an album you could play on the dance floor without it emptying out, though the lyrics continue to be highly melancholy. In "Currents", introverted Kevin makes music equally well suited for introverts and extroverts alike. This album has the potential to open Tame Impala up to a much larger audience.
The highlight of the album for me, is the opener, “Let It Happen”, which is incredibly catchy and transformative and has been making many “best tracks of 2015” lists already. Its mantra-like quality strongly parallels “Be Above It”. In both songs Kevin confronts his anxiety, urging himself to persevere through life’s struggles, though “Be Above It” is more defiant while “Let It Happen” accepts change and goes with it. “Let It Happen” is nearly eight minutes of ebbs and flows through meditative synths and disco funk. The stuck CD effect in the middle catches the listeners’ attention, briefly putting them on edge, and causing a pang of nostalgia; just like the classic broken record skip, CDs and their malfunctions are sadly on their way to becoming objects of the past. I’ve been listening to “Let It Happen” over and over since it came out this March, and like it increasingly more with each listen. It covers so many emotions; joy, uncertainty, sorrow; and can be empowering regardless of your mood.
“The Moment” is also quite mantra-like. Though very different lyrically and in intensity, it has a beat similar to “Elephant”, just more toned down. The reverb in “The Moment” is also spectacularly effective. “Eventually” laments a failed relationship of some sort, longing to be only strangers again and hoping everyone will feel alright in the end. It’s slow and drawn-out, both sorrowful and hesitantly optimistic about the future. “‘Cause I’m A Man” is simple and satisfyingly catchy; it’s the sort of song you could easily sing along to, and a perfect song for summer. Even as one of the simpler songs on the album, it’s deeply complex, with numerous layers of background synths and impressive percussion, as well as a soaring guitar break towards the end, creating a highly textured and glorious wall of sound.
Tame Impala could easily have made another album like "Lonerism", which was adored by both critics and fans, and it would have been guaranteed to go over well. Taking a different route with "Currents" further proves Kevin’s song writing skills and pure talent. I truly believe we’ll look back on him in the future with the same respect we do Syd Barrett, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and other psych rock idols. Another plus about the change in Tame Impala’s sound is that people will hopefully stop suggesting that the band is an emulation of classic 1960s psychedelia, from which they’ve always differed significantly thanks to their tremendous innovation. Though noticeably less traditionally lysergic than their earlier releases, this latest album is no less psychedelic, and numerous sonic elements of previous Tame Impala releases continue: the reverb, beautiful falsetto, incredible transitions and layers, and simple yet highly contemplative lyrics. "Currents" is smoother than its predecessors, as it’s centered more around synths than fuzzy guitars, and the frequent use of synthesizers also fits Parker’s falsetto incredibly well. The falsetto in “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” in particular is heart-wrenchingly beautiful.
Each of Tame Impala’s three full-length albums so far has its own unique and absolutely incredible vibe; it has been exhilarating to watch the band evolve over the years. From the rock and roll-driven sound of "Innerspeaker" (and their self-titled EP), to the space pop of "Lonerism", and now the dreamy disco of "Currents", Tame Impala always delivers a very distinct sound. Being a young musician, still climbing to the peak of his career, it will be incredibly exciting to watch Kevin and the band continue to grow. Tame Impala’s sound is unique, and their ability to change styles, while still retaining the elements that made previous releases so powerful and compelling is what makes them exceptional.
"Currents" is available on CD here (UK/EU), or here (US), or on vinyl here (UK/EU), and here (US).