The Antipodean sonic adventurer, better known by the faux-band moniker Tame Impala, did rather well with 2010’s sprawling, neo-psychedelic modern classic ‘Innerspeaker’.
From recording and producing the full album alone in his bedroom, to widespread acclaim and hanging with fellow space cadets The Flaming Lips in just two years, it’s been a dizzying ride into the stratosphere for the 26-year-old Perth native. Not bad for someone who likes to spend his time lazily ‘sitting around smoking weed’.
Maybe it’s the green stuff then, that’s relaxed Parker throughout the process of recording ‘Lonerism’, because if he has been feeling the pressure then he damn well isn’t showing it. Again, as on ‘Innerspeaker’, he’s the captain of this ship with long time ‘Lips cohort Dave Fridmann on hand for mixing and mastering duties. So what’s in store for Tame Impala pt II?
Well, most strikingly, ‘Lonerism’ is most definitely a studio album. When ‘Innerspeaker’ was released, many people incorrectly but quite understandably assumed this was the sound of a full band, cranking out psyche stompers the old fashioned way, live together in a rehearsal room (the apparent name of the collective and accompanying press shots were additional red herrings). However, on this album, from the opening hypnotic looped whispers of ‘Be Above It’, the studio is embraced throughout and all intent of conveying a ‘band’ image is cast aside and technology embraced to guide Parker’s songs into unchartered territory.
‘Be Above It’ is an intriguing opener itself, as looped loping drums are treated with intermittent effects, synthetic sounding wah guitars invariably stab and the almost-harrowing whisper threads through the track from start to finish. It’s not a ‘song’, there’s no classic verse-bridge-chorus format, it’s more of a ‘piece’… or maybe some kind of aural imagery enticing the listener into Parker’s musical mind.
And the mind (or in particular Parker’s mind) is a subject that permeates throughout Tame Impala’s canon; cases in point amongst others: “There’s a party in my head and no one is invited” from 2010 single ‘Solitude Is Bliss’ and from Lonerism, the tremendous ‘Mind Mischief‘. The latter is a breezy, psychedelic stroll around overdriven riffs, killer drums and synths. Standard fare to be expected from Tame Impala, although the difference is that the pace is slower than previously, and Parker’s trademark Lennon-esque delivery takes on a more floating characteristic, its emphasis on melody over atmosphere.
‘Why Won’t They Talk To Me?’ ups the pace somewhat with a storming motorik drum groove and accessible vocal melody. Though its title hints at weed-induced paranoia, Parker seems to flip this on its head as he sings humorously, “Oh sultry, lonely old me, whoops a daisy, I thought I was happy”, showing a wry and almost self-mocking awareness that many Tame Impala songs have recurring themes of introversion and isolation; look no further than this album’s title.
Parker’s self-awareness is also apparent on ‘Keep On Lying’, singing about reaching “the end of this song”; which is a staccato burst of Nuggets-era garage mixed with modern day studio techniques and rather oddly, some quite naïve and untreated guitar playing. It progresses quite pleasingly into a West Coast Experimental Pop Art Band-style fuzz guitar jam as schizophrenic, studio trickery voices clatter about from ear to ear and back again.
For devotees of ‘Innerspeaker’, a jarring feature of ‘Lonerism’ is the relatively more mellow nature of the songs within. Whilst it’s far from ambient, in comparison to the debut’s relentless sonic assault, the album explores and embraces more extreme dynamics, appreciates spaces and gaps just as much as it is fond of layer upon layer of sound. There even appears to be a gentle, simple and straightforward love (or more likely a love lost) pop song present in ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’.
Of course, the pace of the album is not slow throughout, and most will be well acquainted with the menacing and pulsating glam-stomp of ‘Elephant’ by now and ‘Music To Walk Home By’ is almost ‘Desire Be, Desire Go’ run backwards through a mangle and stretched out onto acetate (or Pro Tools).
Album closer ‘Sun’s Coming Up (Lambington’s)’ is quite unlike anything else Tame Impala have released. Over out of tune piano, Parker’s Lennonisms adopt the deeper tones of ‘Working Class Hero’ as opposed to the standard airy feel a la ‘#9 Dream’. This develops into an arrhythmic, delayed wah guitar line as atmospheric, wind-like noises clatter the microphone like a natural percussion. And with one final gust and fading voice, that as they say, is that.
It could be said that ‘Lonerism’ lacks the immediacy of its predecessor. And true, ‘Innerspeaker’ seemed to be overflowing with both singles and potential singles, from ‘Lucidity’ to ‘Alter Ego’, ‘Solitude Is Bliss’ to ‘Expectation’. Meanwhile, on ‘Lonerism’ one would be hard-pressed to pick out its future releases. But that is not to say that the quality of the album suffers.
As has been done here, the album will inevitably be held up and scrutinised next to previous Tame Impala releases, but there is a different point to ‘Lonerism’ – a cohesion through experimentation that makes the album succeed as a whole, as greater than the sum of its parts.
It is, quite simply, a fantastic album.