Album Review: Tame Impala - Currents

Album Reviews
07/23/2015
Gerrit Feenstra

With the exception of maybe Kendrick Lamar's epic To Pimp A Butterfly cover, Tame Impala's Currents should win the award for 2015's best artwork. The Australian psych outfit are no stranger to great art - 2012's Lonerism sported a similarly self-describing title, on the outside of an iron gate looking in at happy people inside. But with Currents, designer Robert Beatty perfectly embodied the sense of adult-contemporary male flux that Kevin Parker conveys so well on the record. An unflinching sphere of steel moves forward through a sea of still lines, all pointing ahead with zeal and conviction, but behind, the ripples make the past a kaleidoscope, and even the trail you rode in on seems to twist and turn into disarray. Currents marks our third Tame Impala outing, and on it, Kevin Parker brings us an act we haven't seen yet under this moniker: one that is confident, unflinching, and sleeps soundly when the sun goes down. Parker does this both lyrically and musically. The record may be filled to the gills with confessional interpretations of past, present, and future, but underneath the surface of the water is a pitch-perfect psych-pop wonderland that you can lose yourself in for days. Front to back, there isn't a sore moment to find on Currents, and with it, Kevin Parker affirms himself as one of the great songwriters of our time. Currents is one we'll be playing for years to come.

Tame Impala are known to most for the smash Lonerism hit "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards". It's a whimsical ballad in which Parker describes a feeling that many twenty-somethings can relate to in their cyclical attempts to find identity in a sea of lonely troubles. Right off the bat on Currents, Parker ensures the listener that his next outing is not a musical or emotional rehash in the slightest. Album opener "Let It Happen" is almost eight minutes of unnerving confidence in the face of a fight or flight scenario. "All this running around, trying to cover my shadow", Parker sings. Here, he denies all the anxieties of trying to assertively obtain happiness rather than letting it come to you naturally. He heads out into the horizon, says goodbye to his mum, then embarks on a five minute nearly-instrumental odyssey into nirvana, complete with solos from nearly every instrument, and intense jamming that even blows the likes of "Apocalypse Dream" out of the water. If there's a way to open a record like this one, it can't be done any other way than "Let It Happen". After the groove marathon subsides, even Parker himself admits that the audience needs a breather, and follow up interlude "Nangs" does just that. "What if there's something more than that?" asks an airy, spacious Parker, almost like a conscious or an echo from the past. Even alongside unfathomable confidence, there's still the constant whisper of plausible failure. It's in this inner battle that Parker fights the current through the rest of the record.

"I fell in love with the sound of my heels on the wooden floor", Parker sings on "The Moment", embracing the vivacity of the present, realizing that his dreams get closer with every step. Feelings are uncertain, but what is known is a direction. The 6/8 groove moves forward at breakneck speed until it gives out into the half-time ballad "Yes, I'm Changing". On this one, Parker assesses the futility of what he can't control and chooses to keep his head up. It's the polar opposite of anything we heard on Lonerism, and it's a hopefulness he gives away freely. "They say people never change, but that's bullshit - they do." Traffic crowds the melody, and Parker's coo of "it's calling yours too" fades into the background as the busyness of the day takes hold. It's a strange balance, having dreams and spending each day (potentially) going backwards away from them. But with a spring in your step, eventually, you can get there. "Eventually" explodes onto the tape with the same dynamic give and take as classic pop era Flaming Lips (particularly At War With The Mystics cut "The W.A.N.D."). It's easily one of the most addictive offers on the record. On this track, Parker acknowledges the inconsistency of our character - we want to follow our dreams, we want to care for our friends, and yet, we always end up doing the opposite.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons why this happens. In Parker's case, we get our hearts broken and the past comes back to haunt us. "The Less I Know The Better" and "Past Life" both groove through hazy old haunts trying to maintain self-assurance in a sea of confusing, perpetuated mistakes. On the latter, Parker paints the past with a dreamlike, impressionistic picture. Everything slows down, and the melatonin of nostalgia kicks in, and we try to sort through it all to remember the truth, often with little success. But after the brief, sweet shake-off of "Disciples", Parker re-grounds himself in the wonderful declaration of "'Cause I'm A Man". Here, Parker goes full diva, pumping up the androgyny to 11 and sweetening his falsetto the point of sickness. If "'Cause I'm A Man" isn't the best Tame Impala song to date, it is certain their most brazen. From Parker's coo at the end of every chorus to the bass solos and everything in between, there isn't a single piece about this track that doesn't bleed with cool. "I have no voice if I don't speak my mind", Parker cries, "My weakness is the source of all my pride". It's a wholeness in disfunction, it's happiness in the middle of anxiety, it's Kevin Parker moving through treacherous waters with scarf thrown back and a cold gaze that could melt a predator with a single glance.

Currents ends with a three track victory lap that has its own full set of highs and lows. "Reality In Motion" is the most hopeful track on the record, with the hyperdrive kicked into action and rainbows pouring out of the exhaust. It also has the best instrumental outro on the record, piling on the psychedelia until it sloshes out of the mix. "Love/Paranoia" is a breakup song, of sorts, but it's Parker biting the bullet and calling the situation what it is - a far cry from the miscommunications of old. Here we are, 12 tracks deep, and holy smokes, we totally learned something at the end of this whole ordeal. "New Person, Same Old Mistakes" is the credits roll over Emilio Estevez's fist pump. It has the grooviest synth line on the record, and it's a six minute roller that you could put on repeat for hours (which is exactly what I did for four hours last week). "I finally know what it's like", Parker sings, realizing that he isn't the only one in this boat called uncertainty. We are all moving through the currents in our own way. The second verse is too long to write out here, but the whole thing couldn't be more of a testament to the benefits of individuality in a sea of unknowing. Even in the questions of fake vs. real, Parker knows his own preferences - he knows the path that he wants to walk, with heels clicking on the wooden floors. It's hard to digest, but it's a story we all tell in our own way. Not only is Currents one of the best indie rock records we'll hear this year - it's also one of the most telling pictures of young adulthood in motion. It's a weird modern world out there, but Kevin Parker is fighting the good fight just like the rest of us. When you get down, just let it happen, and let Tame Impala sing you to sleep one night at a time.

Currents is out now on Modular Recordings. Grab it at your local record store on CD or vinyl. Tame Impala played Sasquatch this year and melted our faces off. They are set to tour worldwide through October. Check dates at their Facebook page.

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