Tame Impala’s Currents is a journey to the centre of Kevin Parker's mind
There’s probably no bigger Australian band in the world right now than Tame Impala. It’s now at the point where auteur Kevin Parker fires a shot and it’s heard loud and clear around the globe. The 29 year-old’s remarkable ascension has taken him to some of the world’s biggest festivals, and has helped some of our other psychedelic acts find overseas fans (see: King Gizzard, Pond). 2010’s Innerspeaker was an unexpected critical darling, while celebrated chef-d'oeuvre Lonerism was met with even more acclaim two years later. With public expectation at an all-time high, Parker retreated home and begun work on his next creation. The result is Currents: a very special, irrepressibly cool contender for 2015’s best album.
Those following the months-long teaser campaign for Currents will already know the album feels vastly different to previous releases. Early recordings suited that kind of languid, at-home mood, but now the Tame Impala moniker has left the bedroom, its music has followed suit.
Leaning heavily on electronics and largely bereft of guitar, Currents embodies a step away from the rock revivalist box so many place Parker inside. He is increasingly motivated and inspired by modern dance, pop and R&B, and this is what courses through his latest release. It feels like a strange, almost offensive move at first, but one which demands critical attention and flourishes into something more and more remarkable with each listen.
While instantly memorable hooks and foot-stomping grooves remain, the filter Parker runs them through is hugely different. “I wanted to make something that from the sound of it could be down at the club,” Parker told NME in May. “I just realised that I’d never heard Tame Impala played somewhere with a dancefloor or where people were dancing”.
Mountaintop vocals, programmed beats and near-touchable emotion intermingle, producing some kind of psych-R&B Frankenstein creation. Full-bodied basslines drive and throb, as swirling synths rave around EDM-style drops. It’s an enthralling sound, and one with few modern relatives. With the success of Innerspeaker and Lonerism, Parker could easily have handed us another nugget of vintage rock ‘n’ roll and few would have complained. But he’s moved on, making the pop music he really wants to make – and he’s doing it well. Really damn well.
Aesthetically, Currents is vastly rich; decadent even. Speaking to Relix last month, Parker declared he “wanted to have something you could turn up really loud and it would still be pleasing to the ear… [something] that hits you in the chest”, and that’s exactly what he’s made. Layer upon layer of sound coalesce into a truly gargantuan, polyphonic audio assault. It flies out of the speakers and bursts through the eardrum, circling the brain until firmly entrenched. It’s an enormous sound, and one produced to be heard by masses at a time.
Beginning with the transcendent eight-minute “Let it Happen”, Currents emphatically bursts out of the bedroom and onto the dance floor. With its hypnotic glitchy rhythms, stunning orchestral composition and heavy shot of endorphins it’s almost overwhelming, and probably Parker’s finest song to date. Something unforeseen, something spectacular lurks behind every turn, keeping us wavering on the edge of anxiety. But Parker is there, guiding us through the chaos with a reassuring message: “just let it happen, let it happen”.
Down the track list, follow up singles “Eventually” and “’Cause I’m a Man” maintain the same intensity at a slower tempo. Dripping with saccharine hooks and ethereal mysticism, they’re unequivocally poignant, right up there with the best moments from the entire Tame Impala catalogue. The more exuberant, familiar “Reality in Motion” waxes audible panoramas, while ephemeral power pop number “Disciples” too hits hard.
Even with all that change, there are select moments that, quite frankly, have no place on a Tame Impala record – or at least the one we once knew. The trip-hoppy “Love/Paranoia” imagines Parker taking over vocal duties on an FKA twigs or Banks track, while the “dorky, white disco funk" of "The Less I Know the Better" recalls something from a Prince or Michael Jackson B-side. "Past Life" feels like the biggest anomaly, however, stitching together a down-pitched, spoken word verse and a dreamy, exultant chorus a la Air’s “How Does It Make You Feel?”. Haphazard and fluid at the same time, the track – like most of the album – urges us to reconsider what we know about Tame Impala, Parker and the very values they represent.
While in the past songwriting duties have been shared around, Currents is all Parker. It’s a personal coming of age record, one he performed and recorded entirely alone. Themes of reticence and introversion recurred through older tracks such as “Solitude Is Bliss”, “I Don’t Really Mind” and “Why Won't They Talk to Me?", but it appears now Parker is growing up and into his newfound superstardom. He’s even given up smoking weed; something that manifests itself within his newfound musical and lyrical direction.
“Yes I’m changing / Yes I’m gone / Yes I’m older / Yes I’m moving on,” he confirms on the Twin Peaks-y “Yes I’m Changing”, wistfully reflecting on experiences past. He’s aware he might be alienating older fans with his textural shift, though like anyone who truly believes in their art he invites them along for the ride (“and if you don’t think it’s a crime you can come along / with me”). It’s oddly rewarding to watch a change such as this transpire, almost giving us the feeling we too have grown alongside him.
From a critical standpoint, Parker is fast becoming one of today’s most fascinating musicians from any genre, or any nation. He’s methodical; an inventive actor in an established brand, and each Currents track provides testimony for his growth as a producer, songwriter and human being. Even with the bar set impossibly high, Parker manages to drive it higher again, and into new territory. The effect of spending the last half decade playing to progressively larger crowds and being told you've made two modern masterpieces must too be unnerving (not least for someone as manic or introverted as he), and in this context Currents is all the more significant.
It will prove to many that pop is not a dirty word. It will stimulate minds and inspire creativity. A highly visceral, difficult-to-fault effort, Currents represents a seismic shift away from the Tame Impala we knew, all while continuing the staggering run of quality output – and that’s something to be truly admired.