By Roy Trakin. ‘The sound of a man renewing himself.’
Tame Impala, Currents (Modular/Interscope):
This Aussie outfit, at least on record, isn’t really a rock band, but the work of a single auteur, the barefoot neo-hippie Kevin Parker, a Lennonesque genius who retreats to his studio for what is now his third album, and first for a major.
In some songs, it sounds as if he’s almost apologizing for making the break: “I caught a glimpse/I’m going after it… There’s a world out there/And it’s calling my name,” he announces on the self-explanatory deliberation, “Yes I’m Changing,” its echoed vocal sounding like it could’ve come right off Imagine or Pet Sounds, from an artist who tries to overcome the very insularity in the way he creates with a generous hand out to his audience.
Whether you consider Tame Impala a group, or merely a vessel for Parker, the young auteur is the missing link between classic rock’s preening bombast, art-rock’s psychedelic head trip and EDM’s beat-oriented body grip. Perfect example is the seven-minute-plus opener, “Let It Happen,” with its disco pulse, muffled bridge and purposeful skipping telescoping into yet another movement.
“All this running around/I can’t fight it much longer/Something’s trying to get out/And it’s never been closer,” chants Parker, describing his own aesthetic evolution on a third album that makes a decided mainstream move for a group that is ready to enter the monoculture, if indeed there even is one for a rock band at this point in time.
The shimmering “Nangs” offers but a single thought in its soulful, majestic Isaac Hayes R&B hiccup: “Is there something wrong, man?” In “The Moment,” Parker explains his desire to be heard: “I don’t want our footsteps to be silent anymore,” as he fights against the solipsism of the music’s creation and the inevitable crowd he’ll be performing it for. “I only know in the moment/And anticipation is growing,” a stretched out effects-laden guitar wrapping itself around a handclap and tolling keyboard.
The “She’s So Heavy” beat of “Eventually” reveals a break-up song that literally sighs with a combination of resignation and retribution: “Cause I know that you’ll be happier/And I know you will, too,” Parker sings, trying to convince himself.
The Bowiesque disco funk of “The Less I Know the Better” features Parker’s keening falsetto revealing a tale of a lover who’s moved on to another, at least for the time being (“Don’t make me wait forever”), ending with the gloriously tongue-in-cheek, “Come on Superman, say your stupid line.”
From there, Parker slows down his voice to a screwed-up basso profundo over a scratchy, static beat and swirling chords for “Past Life,” which also deals with a former romantic interest who has moved on. “Surreal, poetic so I’d say… like a bizarre chick flick with a confusing end.” Say what you want about Parker, he’s less pretentious than self-mocking, with a wicked sense of humor to boot, less narcissistic than simply detached.
The Michael Jackson-ish high tones return in the swinging “Disciples,” a song of longing and desire against squiggly synths, while the apologetic mea culpa of “’Cause I’m a Man” comes off like a soaring slice of twistedGamble & Huff Philly soul. “Don’t always think before I do,” he confesses. In “Reality in Motion,” Parker tries to describe his feelings of love: “It made my heart run in circles and overflow/And I was closer than ever to letting go,” at the same time admitting his isolation, “There’s no one else around you.” “Love/Paranoia” evokes the heartache-on-the-sleeve of vintage Brian Wilson with its twangy guitars and silky synths: “When the walls go up/I said it didn’t worry me.”
In the closing, “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” Parker directly addresses the artificiality of his creation in no uncertain terms, imagining his fans demanding: “How can you let us down?” only to confess, “Finally taking flight/I know you don’t think it’s right/I know that you think it’s fake/Maybe fake’s what I like/Point is I have the right…. Going with what I always longed for.” He could be addressing followers or a lover, but it’s clear he “feel(s) like a brand-new person.” When he asks, “So how will I know that it’s right?” the evidence is on display.
Currents is the sound of a man renewing himself. Now, it’s up to his band to prove it.