“I can just hear them now. How could you let us down?”, is a premonition from ‘New Person Same Old Mistakes’, the final track on Tame Impala’s third album Currents. Not only does this typify the album’s theme of change and transition, but could predict the possible reaction from Impala traditionalists towards the Australians’ musical shift from psych rock revivalists to 80’s electronic pop-influenced melodies. That’s not to say that Kevin Parker’s new body of work is totally unsatisfying or of bad judgement, but like any fear of adjustment, it might take some time getting acquainted with it first. Nonetheless, a genre detour is highly appropriate for a heartbreak album that has calculus at its heart and its commentary.
It’s been a busy year for Kevin Parker after mixing Aussie friends Pond‘s latest effort Man It Feels Like Space Again and escorting Mark Ronson at Glastonbury after featuring on the producer’s record Uptown Special, make that three-fold. A man who confessed conceptually on Lonerism that he sometimes feels out of place at convivial gatherings and isn’t a natural socialite is being forced to accept the social aspect of success. Which is why Currents paddles around the idiom of “going-with-the-flow”, giving into unpredictable change – rather than attempting to fight it – and letting the things that scare you take their mysterious course. Which in principle include Tame Impala fans coming to terms with the necessity of the bands evolution. Like Parker exclaims: “I know you don’t think it’s right. I know you think it’s fake but maybe fake is what I like/Soon to be out sight.”
Parker begins album three with the epic and inventive ‘Let It Happen’ featuring conscious lyrics: “It’s all around me, all this noise/Just let it happen.” One characteristic of Parker’s music that’s always stayed constant ever since he was a teenager is his willingness to experiment, remain adventurous and be musically curious. ‘Let It Happen’ spontaneously sticks at the three minute mark like a scratched compact disk. Its an effective use of surprise and although it fits with the psychedelic rock principles, it feels like a stepping stone towards the dance-rock territory of LCD Soundystem and the repetition found on French house track ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ by Stardust. Speaking of which, confessed Francophile Parker – he showed his admiration for Serge Gainsbourg in Paris-recorded and photographed Lonerism– also shares elements of early Daft Punk in the cyborg-voiced gibberish chapter and the electronic rock fusion style of’Robot Rock’ and groove of ‘Around The World’. This is after a subtle piece of orchestral-synth boldness and the kind of hypnotic phasing effects that nod towards Tame Impala’s earlier compositions.
Interlude ‘Nangs’ is named after an Australian slang word for laughing gas and the short track convincingly portrays it’s woozy and hallucinogenic qualities with spinning propellers of sonic effects, a hallucinogenic aura and disorientated production but it’s also notably the introduction to a new predilection for hip-hop beats. That type of bassline, as well as claps and finger snaps of that nature also appear on ‘The Moment, Past Life, Love/Paranoia and New Person Same Mistakes’ –one of the highlights of the album for its flashback to the psychedelic rock traits of sitar and backmasking. Thus proving that Tame Impala still have a passion for the genre. The technique of finger-clicking that’s used expansively on Currents is becoming popular and relevant in its own right within music, exemplified by Perfume Genius, Lorde, Glass Animals and How To Dress Well.
Yet the most noticeable genre-borrowing that could divide audiences crops up on the 80s-style synthpop/power rock ballads ‘Cause I’m A Man’, ‘Yes I’m Changing’ and ‘Reality In Motion‘ . Emotional, melody-focused, romantic and featuring the chimey keyboard sound associated with that decade, this will be one of the challenges and tests of change facing their stubborn allegiance. Although each of the aforementioned tracks has enough depth and layers, that they can’t be passed off as a plastic pop mid-career crisis. ‘Yes I’m Changing’ has the mystique of an Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack, baroque harpischord and Parker’s beloved dictation machine samples – something that worked a treat on Lonerism– presenting traffic noise. The sparkly and mellow ‘Cause I’m A Man’ is the first time that Parker has brought his usually distant voice to the forefront of his musical stage; simplistically placed and unclouded by a bubblewrap of low-frequency oscillation. It’s also memorable for its apologetic lyrics relating to the weakness the male gender: “Cause I’m a man, woman. Don’t always think before I do.”
At the most drastic end of the spectrum is ‘Past Life’. As Tame Impala’s songs have evolved since Innerspeaker, synths have slowly taken over but Past Life completely ignores guitars with aviation-travelling bursts, Minimoog Moroder style production and static distortion flowing over the twinkling electronics. Shockingly, Kevin Parker’s ethereal falsetto is replaced by a slowed down deep translation of himself – reminiscent of Shamir’s ‘Call It Off’ – a WTF moment if there ever was one. Especially when he consider the high pitch he reaches on the equally lethargic and Michael Jackson-meets-white funk ‘The Less I Know The Better’. Maybe the idea of “letting oneself go” is pushed to its extremes here. Yet knowing that Parker is a perfectionist gives listeners the hope that the vocoder-alteration must have some sort of rational purpose; possibly to show an alter-ego of his creation.
In spite of this, Parker has not changed his principles or music tastes. In an interview for the NME, he said that Currents edges closer to the “ultimate kind of music” that he’d like to create. He’s still in a learning process, exploring ways to break the boundaries like his idol Todd Rundgren and is trying to find a way to blend the “dream pop” and sugary pop of his guilty pleasures – songs that he has called the purest form of expression – and the “hard-hitting groove” of tracks like ‘Elephant’ from Lonerism. Where will the current flow next? A complete negligence of rock? And will the fans adapt to another inevitable change? Even after three albums, it’s a project that’s still a work in progress.