Album Review: Tame Impala ‘Currents’

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The new Tame Impala album Currents is available to stream on NPR ahead of its release date July 17th.

I’ve seen Tame Impala twice, the first time in 2012 at The Orange Peel in Asheville, NC and the second time this year at Sasquatch. The two shows couldn’t have been more different. At the Peel, it was a full-blown party. Songs from Innerspeaker and a couple of new tracks from Lonerism made it into the set, and the feeling that you were really at a Rock N’ Roll show. At Sasquatch, the sun setting behind the main stage and exalting the band’s dreamy synth rock psychedelia to heavenly heights gave the crowd a sense of euphoria. Three years may not seem like a lot of time, but for a band like Tame Impala, it’s a lifetime of change leading up to their album coming out this week.

Innerspeaker introduced the Australian band as disciples of psychedelia, a reinvented, fresh nod to the sacred classic rock songs of decades past. In 2012, Lonerism put forth a collection of songs that broke the idea that Tame Impala were a revivalist outfit of ’60s and ’70s psychedelic rock jams. Kevin Parker’s constant theme of solitude from album titles to lyrics are cracked but unbroken on Currents, a title loaded with the implicit changes affecting Tame Impala with their growing notoriety in the rock and pop music spectrum. Although it’s not exactly clear if the currents are moving forward, backwards, or in a circle for the band.

In Currents Kevin Parker’s electronic producing sensibilities develop each song into a fascinating, multifaceted journey of solitude, acceptance, and weariness of going through fame. We don’t have to do a lot of thinking on this beyond the song titles. Opening the album with “Let it Happen” could certainly be Parker’s internal mantra, a white flag waving simplicity and freedom goodbye in order to move sanely through changes bigger than his own.”Past Life” opens with Kevin Parker narrating a story of simpler times through a vocoder that distorts his voice to a deep, funky radio voice. It’s disarming until the beat kicks in, and the heavy synth loops sweep you off into a dreamlike haze. Its an excellent prelude to “I’m A Man.”

“The Less I Know The Better” is a shimmering disco funk beat that throws conventional “Same Impala” thinkers a curveball. Its “I was fine until I saw you” heartache hotel lyrics battle with doubt and self-consciousness in a relationship on “Love/Paranoia.” The song “Moment” recalls the repetitive crescendo of Lonerism‘s opening track “Be Above It,” repeating “it’s getting closer” over and over. Whatever that moment may be, it follows with the melancholic “Yes, I’m Changing,” a painful change-of-the-times ballad that places ambition ahead of devotion, because there’s no other way to do it. It’s a struggle that is all too familiar to bands that are small stage one year and main stage the next. A whole lot more changes than the size of the crowd.

 Currents takes the base of Tame Impala’s successful rock n’ roll base and combines it with post-funk soul and primitive ’80s dance music. The pop-oriented instrumentation will either conceal the sadness the lyrics or make everyone forget their problems. It will make Top Albums of 2015 lists and bring in more fans, but it doesn’t hold me the way Lonerism did. Lonerism encompassed man and machine and nature in a perfect balance. Currents is man and machine, but the man is taller, the machine shinier. Though some are saying its a matter of time before Tame Impala make it onto radio play and are doing stadium tours, I’m selfishly hoping that doesn’t happen. Like everyone who feels the emotional attachment to a band they’ve been listening to for years, you don’t want the secret out and you don’t want the machine to take over.

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