Greek philosopher Heraclitus once mused, “nothing endures but change.”
Time ushers in progress while the leaves darken, death slowly approaching just as new life escapes its grasp, blossoming from the ashes. On a smaller scale, the man who once thought he knew the way the world works finds his belief system imploding, new morals and perspectives emerging from the wreckage.
On Tame Impala’s masterful third studio album, Currents, Kevin Parker encapsulates these notions of transformation and personal growth, trading a past filled with fuzzed licks for Bee Gees inspired synthesizer psychedelia.
The waves of droning guitar rock and spaced out strums that catalyzed the successes of 2010’s Innerspeaker and 2012’s Grammy-nominated, Lonerism, retreat for walls of trippily looped harmonies set against sprawling disco-infused backdrops. Parker’s vocals have never been this ethereal, his powerful falsetto delicately dancing throughout the work, soaked in introspections of change and drunk off lovelorn lamentations.
During the album’s press circuit, Parker has touched on numerous inspirations for his most recent effort. They range from a mushroom filled, late night Los Angeles car ride to a recent breakup, but most importantly – his realization that Tame Impala has no limitations for what it can and “should” sound like. Elaborating upon the former, he reminisces,
“I was in LA a few years ago and for some reason we’d taken mushrooms, it must have been the end of our tour… a friend was driving us around LA in this old sedan. He was playing the Bee Gees and it had the most profound emotional effect. I’m getting butterflies just thinking about it. I was listening to ‘Stayin’ Alive,’ a song I’ve heard all my life. At that moment it had this really emotive, melancholy feel to it. The beat felt overwhelmingly strong and, at that moment, it sounded pretty psychedelic. It moved me, and that’s what I always want out of psych music. I want it to transport me.”
Within the 51 minute run time of Currents, Kevin Parker achieves this goal, transporting the listener to gorgeous realms of color and sound, all while showcasing his growth as a songwriter, producer, and for the first time, a mixing engineer.
The eight-minute epic, “Let It Happen,” commences this kaleidoscopic tour, guiding us to parts unknown. Warped repetitions of synthesized keyboard – matched with echoed snaps and claps – travel through interstellar wormholes whilst Daft Punk-ian, vocoder-ed vocals reflect on the futility of resisting life’s singular driving force.
Much like the rest of the album, guitar work is scarce, but near its conclusion this mad scientist of melody permeates the airwaves with one of the meanest Tame Impala riffs to date. Staying true to the album opener’s form, traditional song structures go up in psychedelic flames on Currents.
Tracks like “Past Life” and the woozy interludes, “Gossip” and “Nangs,” indicate Parker’s ever-expanding sonic palette, as well as his ever-growing ambition. The latter interlude emulates its namesake (an Australian slang term for whippets), hitting like a rush of nitrous oxide, dizzying whirs running amok as the high takes hold.
Fans longing for Lonerism DNA will find refuge in the ephemeral “Disciples,” the heavy rocking “Eventually,” and the explosive layers of “Reality in Motion.” But as a whole, Currents denotes a significant auditory departure from Tame Impala’s previous outputs. Parker waxes nostalgic, expounding upon this deviation,
“Listening to [our music] was very much a kind of headphone, solitary experience, which is cool, but I’ve moved on from that. I wanted to make something that from the sound of it could be down at the club. I just realised that I’d never heard Tame Impala played somewhere with a dancefloor or where people were dancing.”
Disco stomper, “The Less I Know the Better” and the hip-hop centric bass grooves of album closer “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” suggest Parker’s clubby wishes may soon be fulfilled.
The album may prove divisive to Tame Impala guitar devotees, but Currents conveys a musician at the very top of his game in every aspect. The arrangements are spectacularly complex, the lyrics emotionally grappling and provocative. On album standout, “Yes, I’m Changing,” Parker earnestly declares, “yes, I’m changing… And if you don’t think it’s a crime you can come along, with me.”
As Tame Impala continues to create such downright beautiful compositions, we’ll be here, following close behind.
Tame Impala’s third studio album, Currents, is available in stores, Friday, July 17. They’ll be at Lollapalooza later this month, playing on Saturday at 6 pm.