Review: Tame Impala – ‘Currents’

ti1“It’s always around me, all this noise,” is the opening lyrical couplet on Tame Impala’s exceptional third album ‘Currents‘.

Kevin Parker, the band’s mastermind, has always tried to make sense of the chaos that surrounds his life. The project’s previous two albums were covered in hazy guitars, the songs often organically evolved in kaleidoscopic drug friendly jams.

Parker’s introverted lyrics regularly detailed instances of anxiety and being overwhelmed by the world at large. The world around remains a disorienting loud haze but, on ‘Currents’, Parker turns his artistic kaleidoscope, gaining a new perspective musically and personally, while transforming his artistic vision and range.

There has been much ado leading up to and surrounding the album’s release, chiefly because of Parker’s switch from guitar to synth as his primary instrument, though this shift seems more like natural musical progression toward lite-psychic-funk rock rather than radical a departure from the guitar based neo-psychedelia that made the band festival favourites.

The monumental and cinematic album opener ‘Let It Happen‘ waves in between scattering synths and apocalyptic organs before finally busting into a disco funk guitar rock riff during its final act. In just under eight minutes, it masterfully bridges the musical gap between this and previous LP ‘Lonerism‘, while setting the texture and tone for rest of the album.

Elsewhere, the rhythmically pumping ‘Reality In Motion‘ has minimal guitars but sounds like one of the most traditional Tame Impala songs here. The gushy melodic ballad ‘Yes I’m Changing‘, however, sheds light on an entirely new side of the band. A steady bass line floats the track along whilst numerous synths twinkle and glimmer over the top. The sentiment may come across as cheesy to some, but the track provides a glimpse into the range that Parker has as a songwriter.

Elsewhere, arcade synths shimmer over shuffling drums on album standout ‘The Moment‘, and fans of the previous guitar based work will be delighted by the tasty pocket-rock treat that is ‘Disciples‘; always (mostly) a one-man project, Parker’s progression and focus on the synth feels entirely natural.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of ‘Currents’ is just how melodic and personal it is. There is more emphasis on Parker’s lyrics and vocals than the previous records. It is the first in which he has truly put his heart on his sleeve. The album’s sentiment is rooted in the end of Parker’s relationship with Melody Prochet of Melody’s Echo Chamber. Its emotional and musical centerpiece, ‘Eventually‘, dynamically details the final moments of a break up. “I know I always said that I could never leave you, well this is the very, very last time I’m ever going to,” sings Parker over razor cutting synths and booming drums. Gleaming synths also peer out through the chaos as Parker plaintively hopes, “But I know that I’ll be happier, and I know you will too, eventually.”

On the half-baked intergalactic dub of ‘Past Life‘, Parker continues to explore different romantic themes, this time narrating an encounter with a previous lover. Over a pitched down vocal filter, Parker wrestles with the decision to call her to explain his mistakes, and how life seems to orbit around a singular timeline. ‘Cause I’m a Man‘ finds him listing out his shortcomings over a groovy laidback R&B influenced backdrop. “I have no voice if I don’t speak my mind, my weakness is the source of all pride,” Parker croons as he tries his best to explain himself.

The album’s dark and bouncing thematic closer ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes‘ admits that a personal metamorphosis should be met with some doubt. The track’s cathartic bridge drops in out of nowhere, and proves that Parker has taken a leap not only as a songwriter, but as a producer as well. The production is intricate and unified, every sound is precisely placed, making for a glorious listen on headphones, but these grooves are meant to be felt out on the dance-floor.

The sequencing on ‘Currents’ is masterfully crafted; the lyrical narrative slowly unfolds while the music remains consistently engaging throughout the 13-song set. The warped polaroids of ‘Nangs‘ and radio transmission of ‘Gossip‘ serve as welcome palette cleansers, while ‘Love/Paranoia‘ gleams with sleek, crisp snaps.

The artwork depicts the physics of vortex shredding, as seen in fluids and air. This phenomenon occurs when an oscillating flow streams past some sort of buffer. In previous releases, it felt as if Parker’s anxiety was the resistance against these currents, but now he’s reached a personal and artistic cathartic ease. He is beginning to learn to go with the flow, and while there isn’t a standout roaring riff that will get stuck in your head à la ‘Elephant‘, on ‘Currents’ there are tons of catchy vocal melodies littered throughout.

Currents may not prove to be Parker’s best work, but musically the expression of his artistic vision has never been more pristine, or as diverse.

It’s one of the best albums of 2015 – a creative and artistic triumph.

(Trey Tyler)

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