Monday, July 20, 2015

Tame Impala - Currents Review

Where does one go when they themselves feel a coming stagnation? Where certain artists thrive off a natural evolution others take sonic detours. The 2010’s Psychedelic stalwarts Tame Impala, helmed by Kevin Parker, are doing just that with their latest release. Whereas Innerspeaker and Lonerism were driven by a revisionist history of the 60’s through grainy filters, Currents leapfrogs generously into the 80’s with subtle hints to their fading sound, covered in glitter, laced with synths. It’s Parker’s reaction to those, including myself, who called his work one-dimensional, bland and unoriginal. Apart from a few dynamic changes in tone and complexity, Currents suffers in a similar vein to Glam Rock’s obsession with trivial romanticism as cheesy and cliche topics bleed out of every track. The stitching keeping some of it together resides in Parker’s inherent introversion, a facet of his enigma that provides a residual context to age-old dilemmas. Parker’s talents are wide-reaching and obvious, but without a forward, or even present, approach to music Tame Impala, and Currents, muck up another lackluster release that lies in the history books with the history it attempts to elicit. 

Currents begins with a grand affair. ‘Let It Happen’ sees Parker attempt an epic, a resounding 7-minute journey through his vision of 80’s Disco Pop. It bears striking resemblance in structure to Arcade Fire’s ‘Reflektor,’ just with less verbosity and substance. Both songs emerge with a fervor before escalating things instrumentally, like a rave with loose strings controlling it. The opening track shows off Parker’s immediate and palpable change to guided drum processions rather than being led by guitars, the most noticeable alteration from one era to the next. The follow-up to this, ‘Nangs,’ showcases this even further with Tame Impala’s most accessibly divine track to date. In its short tour Parker evokes mysterious synths, washed out vocals, streamlined drums and a bass line you’d only hear in Hip-Hop’s primetime songs. While these instruments are present throughout Currents none of them are executed quite as effectively as their first two appearances. Tracks like ‘Disciples’ and ‘The Less I Know The Better,’ amongst others, heavily contain compressed synths that dart loudly and obsessively around, drowning out any other sound warrants attention. At times they’re dry and vapid, like the harmonizing synths on ‘Yes I’m Changing’ that mimics every sad montage found in romantic movies. 

What’s at times even worse is the vocals. Never a prominent feature of Tame Impala’s music, Parker’s singing has always best been used as an accessory to the production, not the dominating factor. To coincide with the sound becoming lighter and more vibrant, Parker followed suit, his voice reminiscent of a tone-deaf male who forces a high-pitched female falsetto to show vulnerability. Granted, the voice falls in line, but many of the lyrics rival that of cheesy 80’s anthems. “But baby, now there’s nothing left that I can do, so don’t be blue” on ‘Yes I’m Changing,’ “Are you sure it was nothing, cause it made me feel like dying inside” on ‘Love/Paranoia,’ and “I know I always said that I could never hurt you, well this is the very, very last time I’m ever going to” on ‘Eventually.’ These are just a handful of the rudimentary couplets sprinkled throughout Currents. It’s not like they’re off-handed lyrics but more essential to Currents’ post-relationship coming of age story, one of the most overdone tropes in all of entertainment. There’s even the bizarre, but oddly charming, ‘Past Life’ thrown midway through where a pitch-shifted voice retells a story had at the dry cleaners, a ploy almost too comical to believe as anything other than parody. And if that’s what Parker was going for, he succeeded. 

There are glimpses throughout Currents where Parker’s vision almost becomes fully realized. ‘Reality In Motion’ leads the deep cuts in terms of replay-ability, out-pacing some of the singles like ‘Eventually’ and ‘Disciples’ in terms of blissful catchiness. And controversial single ‘Cause I’m A Man,’ despite how generalized and stereotypical Parker’s excuses for struggling as a man are, one can’t excuse the fashionable chorus that best represents Tame Impala’s inspiration, doused in oozing synths, wrecking ball bass and an opening line as catchy as it is corny. Unfortunately the majority of Currents aims towards a lofty goal not worth approaching. Fully realizing a musical trope long since past doesn’t distance Tame Impala from mundanity, rather it creates two parallel universes where in both worlds the group successfully mimics sounds long since created. Parker isn’t unaware of this either, he largely profits off the nostalgic factor, and makes numerous references to his changing patterns. On closer ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’ Parker opens by saying “I can just hear them now, how could you let us down” as a way to cope with his soon-to-be divided fanbase. He positions it as enlightenment on something he’s experienced, and while that may be true, it doesn’t negate the music, devoid of any substance.

Currents, for how it’s titled, is anything but. It certainly is more current than the dying nature of Psychedelic Rock’s n-th revival, but the sounds, textures, reverb and filters drown out the perception of the present. For once touring with MGMT the comparisons are rather noteworthy, with many tracks here worthy of replacement on any of their records. The differences lie in the progression. As MGMT moved away from the Pop that made them note-worthy into a unremarkable, hermit-like state, Tame Impala blossomed into a effervescent beast centered around mainstream Pop interests. One could argue Currents is their best work, and they wouldn’t be wrong. It’s just hard to put past the short-comings of an artist as talented as Kevin Parker making cheesy, glorified love songs without a pinch of parody. Small dosages of brilliance flourish, like ‘Nangs’ or the chorus on ‘Past Life,’ but they’re just too few and far between to not wish for more. Some will no doubt find pleasure placed throughout Currents, for the same person who makes it conventional, overdone and cliched is the one gracing it with sublime furnaces, adorned and polished to pristine, synthetic levels. 


  1. And I thought I was the only one who felt like this. THANK YOU.

    1. No problem! Just never saw the appeal of this album, really didn't get it. Thanks for reading!