Album Review: Tame Impala – Currents
The cover art for Currents depicts vortex shedding: the trippy-looking process wherein fluid or gas is displaced around a blunt object. As the former distorts when flowing past the latter, its previously rigid currents are warped into swirling, hypnotic new patterns. Likewise, across his career spearheading Tame Impala, Kevin Parker has used his remarkable talents to contort strands of genres which have settled into linearity, recycling tropes of old and leaving intriguing new shapes in his wake. Down the years, he has woven “classic” rock, astral prog and smooth R&B into irresistibly catchy pop music, which draws from the past while remaining forward-thinking. It’s a skill over which he has exercised greater command with each album: the chugging ’60s fuzz of Innerspeaker giving way to the seismically inventive Lonerism, 2012’s crossover success which catapulted Parker into his role as the new poster boy of guitar maestros.
Such a leap in terms of attention has naturally wrought fundamental changes in Parker’s life, and the third Tame Impala album finds him confronting the process of change from several angles. The would-be cult concern can now be seen on the cover of mainstream magazines and rubbing shoulders with some of modern pop’s biggest names, and consequently, he’s now responsible for one of the most hotly-anticipated returns of the year. For the man who once sang “there’s a party in my head and no-one is invited” on 2010’s ‘Solitude is Bliss’, the shindig is becoming increasingly crowded, infiltrating Parker’s introverted world and flooding it with hyperbole. And although Parker barely seems fazed on the surface, there are plenty of hints towards the cracks beneath that laidback surface. Several months after the release of Lonerism, Parker’s relationship with fellow artist Melody Prochet came to an end; potentially the most personal fallout from the former’s ascendancy. It’s a keystone detail in the sea of changes that Parker has faced down during the making of Currents; another layer to the album’s fixation with transformation and its consequences.
Both emotionally and musically, Currents is a break-up album. Alongside the romantic allusions peppering the lyric sheets, guitars are no longer the primary focus of Parker’s sonic interests. Popping basslines step forward in lieu of frazzled riffs, keyboards and synthesisers sparkle on all sides, and swaying disco grooves stand in for the cartwheeling sprawl of singles past. As if in challenge to the inevitable naysayers, Parker stresses his new tastes blatantly on ‘Yes I’m Changing’, wandering off in new directions and dismissing those unwilling to follow. Although really, in 2015, the only people who remain affronted by the sublimation of guitars are those whose musical educations begin and end with their dads’ music libraries. And that’s only if said dads have highly unadventurous tastes.
Reimagining landscapes to fit the dancefloor is nothing new, but such is the intricate detail and perfectionism with which Parker approaches these songs, the aesthetics are wonderfully impressive nonetheless. Currents’ most spectacular song is also its opener: since dropping back in spring, the flair and ambition of ‘Let it Happen’ remains unshakeably dazzling. An eight-minute odyssey through stomping disco, hazy slow jams, strangled funk, and that transcendental passage wherein the loop button jams in place, it’s both enthralling and a technical marvel. Volumes dip and swell, new ingredients land with marvellous precision, and the seams are all but invisible. There may not be much else on Currents packing the same boldness, but Parker has plenty to draw from, the ideas pouring forth in abundance.
The album’s treats arrive in all shapes and sizes, including sultry soul on ‘’Cause I’m a Man’: a sideways swipe at the bullshit posturing borne from the masculine paradigm, which also boasts a craftily moreish chorus. ‘The Moment’ and ‘The Less I Know the Better’ are hip-swingingly magnificent vehicles of wonky funk, “dorky” enough to suit Parker’s fidgety neuroses, but dazzling in their balance between retro and fresh. Oddest of all is ‘Past Life’, on which Parker’s voice is reduced to a robotic monotone delivering spoken-word musings over a glittering ’80s slow jam, complete with finger snaps and silky harmonies. While initially off-putting, Parker’s ear for whopping hooks gives the song the tools it needs to transcend bafflement, and as it blossoms towards its climax, one can only marvel at his ability to alchemise a mess of concepts into singular brilliance.
Underpinning the aural wonderment is Parker’s emotional journey. Centrepiece ‘Eventually’ is a new high in terms of songcraft, cutting to the heart of an impending break-up with clarity, and a not altogether sympathetic honesty. “I know just what I’ve got to do / And it’s got to be soon,” Parker agonises, his progression repeatedly thrown off by bruising guitars and drums that rip apart the composure. It’s a narrative that shifts and mutates through the bitterness of ‘The Less I Know the Better’, the morose regret of ‘Love / Paranoia’, and smudges of memory in ‘Disciples’. The squelchy ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’ isn’t the most bombastic closing chapter imaginable, but when paired with its fellow bookend ‘Let it Happen’, its lyrics tie the album off perfectly. No matter what wisdom one believes to have gleaned from the past, ingrained cycles are fiercely difficult to break. Both in relationships (“I don’t care I’m in love” Parker’s primary vocal sighs, as a background voice urges “stop before it’s too late”) and in music (“I know that you think it’s fake / Maybe fake’s what I like”), Parker has seen many changes, but ultimately, he’s still dealing with the same matters he was plumbing on Innerspeaker, bringing fresh light to old colours.
Currents does occasionally lose its flow in passages where it becomes a little too smooth. Part of Lonerism’s appeal was its gleefully busy approach, resulting in a broad smorgasboard of textures spurred by Parker’s mischievous tendencies. Currents feels strikingly slick by comparison, and there are times when his voice begins to wear thin. By the time of ‘Reality in Motion’, one starts to wish for a deviation from his wispy falsetto to something with greater potency. Nonetheless, brush aside a few moments here and there, and Currents remains a tremendous achievement in which Parker flourishes as producer, musician, and songwriter. The final result may be less world-beating than its immediate predecessor, but it’s highly impressive on its own terms, and points towards spectacular things in Parker’s future. It’s tantalising to ponder what shapes he’ll form next.
“I’m moving on, and if you don’t think it’s a crime you can come along with me.”
Posted on July 23, 2015, in The Music World and tagged Album Review, Cause I'm a Man, Currents, Eventually, Fiction, Kevin Parker, Let it Happen, Melody Prochet, Past Life, Tame Impala, The Less I Know the Better. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.