Signaling a new wave
Neo-psychedelic band Tame Impala explores new territory with old sounds
17 July 2015
In a musical era where few people can name current artists and bands other than The Black Keys and Jack White that classify as “rock bands,” the popularity of guitar-driven music, whether in the form of blues-rock, punk, or psychedelic, appears to be waning. The exploding popularity of electronic dance music (EDM) and the continued mainstream success of hip-hop has left little room for attention to the prototypical 5-piece rock band. Australian band Tame Impala has been a rare success in the broad yet shrinking genre of rock music — they’ve won Grammys, had songs featured in television shows and commercials, and have been lauded by critics for bringing much-needed innovation to a dying genre. Stepping out of their musical niche, Tame Impala has taken a bold risk with their new album Currents, which differs greatly from their previous rock-oriented music.
Currents represents a clear step forward in the band’s style. The sound found on Tame Impala’s previous albums Innerspeaker and Lonerism, both of which were lauded by critics, is reminiscent of the psychedelic movement of the ‘60s. Currents instead pulls from electronic-based pop first explored in the ‘70s. The track “Yes I’m Changing” contains plenty of spacey keyboard orchestration while still staying rooted with a strong bass line. This formula is also present in “The Moment,” which strikingly resembles Tears for Fears’ once-popular track “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” However, this style of indie-pop isn’t an anomaly in today’s music — fellow Australian bands such as Cut Copy, Bag Raiders, and Empire of the Sun work within this genre and have also had great success.
Tame Impala’s best work on Currents comes when they blend the old with the new, taking their punching guitar riffs, bass lines, and electric funk from previous albums and mixing in a dreamy pop sound punctuated with atmospheric keyboard and synthesizers and reverberated guitar. The opening track and lead single “Let It Happen” features deep, mellowing synths topped with keyboards to provide a melody that converges to an eclectic and funky bridge — the song is quite honestly the most prominent highlight of the entire album. “Eventually” is another track that does this blend well with an expansive assortment of electronic sounds and a guitar progression that complements lead singer Kevin Parker’s airy vocals.
There are instances on Currents where Tame Impala’s experiment with pop just doesn’t work — the track “Reality in Motion” is anything but catchy and offers little other than an overused reverb effect on the vocals. The track “‘Cause I’m A Man” channels the spirit of an ‘80s soft rock ballad but is somewhat forgettable. But even on an album that seems so audibly nostalgic, variation throughout Currents makes this new sound (mostly) a win for Tame Impala.
Thematically, the album spans the singer’s transformation between “old self” and “new self” in the context of a lost relationship. From the quasi-YOLO attitude on “Let it Happen” and “The Moment” to a later regretful tone on “Love/Paranoia” and “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” Parker looks introspectively at the reasons why a particular relationship of his needed to end. While this format serves as a cohesive template, many of the lyrics found on Currents are rather dull and full of angst, contrasting with the lush sounds of the backing band. On “The Less I Know the Better,” Parker laments unrequited love with “She was holding hands with Trevor/Not the greatest feeling ever/Said, ‘Pull yourself together/You should try your luck with Heather,’” a cringe-worthy quatrain with an even more cringe-worthy rhyme. The subsequent songs, such as “Past Life,” “Cause I’m A Man,” and “Love/Paranoia,” are also filled with sappy heartaches, and even when the lyrics aren’t specifically addressing a lost love or a romantic mistake, they are still pining in the least sympathetic way possible. Tame Impala consciously made a change in their sound with a transition from their modern take on psychedelic rock to a ‘70s-esque synth-pop sound, but unfortunately, they brought some shallow pop lyrics with them.
Nevertheless, Tame Impala has brought something new to the table in clear contrast to the Top-40 music currently playing on the airwaves. Even though they missed the mark lyrically and sometimes musically on tracks throughout this album, Currents is an exciting approach for the group. Just as their sophomore effort Lonerism improved upon their debut album, Tame Impala has set itself up for exploration and maturation in future works using the style crafted on Currents.