Tame Impala – by which one really means the band’s creative force Kevin Parker – continues to do things their/his own very idiosyncratic way.
The album opens with “Be Above It” and immediately there are initial palpitations of fear. The frantic, panicked drums and speed-freak paranoia are accompanied by the panted refrain which raises worrying questions: has Kevin Parker taken his love of psychedelia to the level of immersing himself in a lysergic nightmare which has frazzled his mind?
Thankfully though, these fears are unfounded. When the song regains its balance and finds its center, it quickly becomes a breathy, Motown-tinged jaunt through hazy pop. The pace quickens with “Endors Toi” which is a space rock wig-out but again, after bursting through the stratosphere with all rockets firing, the song eases back on the throttle and we’re soon floating above the earth again in a Parker-piloted shuttle heading for Planet Groove. Here the Tame Impala head honcho channels John Lennon in his Sgt. Pepper finery, all braids and epaulets, dreaming wistfully in a Lucy kinda way as the intergalactic chugging guitars and cosmic drums take you far above the planet.
“Apocalypse Dreams” as a title suggests a morbid, end of the world vibe but once more, Parker throws a curve ball and focuses more on the dreaming than the destruction and delivers another slice of cosmic, Motown-influenced dream pop. It’s a song which makes you feel like you’re floating in an isolation tank filled with extremely strong weed vapours while recollections of a lover’s whispers of reassurance stroke your mind.
In all these new songs, Parker’s voice operates as a guide on the soundwaves, leading you through the stories he weaves in lullaby tones but the music behind it all is equally mesmerizing. Effects blow in and out, synths echo and fade, the guitars bend impossibly all over the musical spectrum and the bass and drums get locked into unshakeable grooves, whatever the time signature – which vary from moment to moment on most tracks, leaving the listener to trip and stumble through songs like “Mind Mischief.”
Up next is “Music to Walk Home By” which should come with a disclaimer: If you walk home listening to this track, you may not make it. Even sat in the security of a well-padded chair, tethered to the tangible reality of a stereo system via headphones, I was floating away. Had I been on the street, I would have wandered past my house, out of town, through the fields… Perhaps only the coast would have stopped me. I was utterly transported into a swirling, hypnotic soundscape, through ebbing and flowing colors, following Parker’s lilting refrain like the call of a psychedelic siren.
“Why Won’t They Talk to Me” has Tame Impala pawing at terra firm but not for long. Even with an upbeat bass and drum line which was made for absent-minded head nodders the world over, Tame Impala can’t help themselves. Soon you’re three feet off the ground again, following the strands of muted organ and skittering effects like a cartoon cat floating along on the waves emanating from a freshly cooked 2-D chicken. Once you touch down again in time for the exiting reprise, it’s your moment to dance. The song hits its stride as it returns to earth, chugging into the distance and a fist –pumping finale.
“Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” is a beautiful, wistful Beatlesesque tune which soars along on a mid-tempo bass line which McCartney would be proud of; all subtle runs and high notes exploring the possibilities inhabiting the expressive vacuum under Parker’s high-flying vocals.
“Elephant” is the stand-out track, mainly because it breaks from the untethered, ethereal dreaming of what’s gone before to stomp along like the titular pachyderm in a pair of glitter boots. It’s glorious glam rock which sounds like all great songs do – like it would be a blast to play. Every Impala is in the zone here, whereas most times they seem to float around each other in the general vicinity of the main coda, adding layers and colours of their own. “Elephant” follows a simple, throbbing blueprint and it’s a thrilling piece of music which is enhanced by the rolling, tumbling lyrics: “He took the mirrors off his Cadillac because he didn’t like it looking like he looked back…”
Despite the acclaim that began with a number of courageously out-there EPs and which went global with the release of debut album Innerspeaker in 2010, Parker and his troupe of Aussie psychonauts go about their business as though they are still huddled over battered moogs in a bedroom far from the eyes and ears of the rest of the world.
Born out of the hugely creative underground alt-rock community in their hometown of Perth, there could have been few more remote places in which Tame Impala could come together. Not only cast to the farthest point on the coast of Western Australia but also isolated from that city’s mainstream society within a thriving sub culture, it was a miracle in itself that Parker’s music ever got heard in his own country, let alone around the world.
But get heard it did and not only that, the music dreamt up in those shared houses and remote beach communes of Australia’s most western tip got under our planet’s skin. It tapped into something dormant, something which had been sleeping since the 60s dream died. Tame Impala sounded like nothing which was around at the time of Innerspeaker’s release. In fact, they sounded like nothing which had strode the earth in the previous 50 years.
One gets the impression that it’s all still a little too surreal for Parker, all this fame and adoration. It still baffles him that his music takes him around the globe, allows him to play his bedroom grooves to increasingly large audiences of rabid fans, and inspires the world’s press to clamour for his thoughts and opinions. Here is a young man who is lauded by a Who’s Who of rock royalty, whose music inspires cultish devotion from those who should have seen it all and done it all. And yet, here is a guy who took himself and his friends off to a small Paris apartment, away from the glare, to write and record an album called Lonerism.
It’s remarkable that Parker and his cohorts still consider themselves to be loners in the face of such a gathering tide of acclaim, that they have remained grounded until now. It will be unfathomable if they can keep it up after this record gets out. A similar animal to Innerspeaker but of a more subtle stripe, Lonerism is going to be everywhere. It will permeate consciousness and bleed into other dimensions.
Where its predecessor was a collection of weird, tripped-out flights of fancy and ballsy psych-rock workouts, Lonerism has given Tame Impala the wings to fly in their own airspace – and it’s far from this world. There is freedom above these clouds, expansive panoramas conceived in the mind and released through this transcendental music. Where Tame Impala stopped and started to great effect on Innerspeaker, here they fly seamlessly through Lonerism, over and through its epic selection of soundscapes with the abandon which only the gloriously unconscious can achieve.
My only criticism would be that Lonerism lacks the diverse punches which punctuated its predecessor. Lonerism is beautifully crafted and a pure vision; all the songs fit seamlessly together but “Elephant” aside, it feels like a long sunny afternoon, when you’re high as a kite, lying in the long grass. Time drifts by as easily and pleasingly as the shapes forming in the clouds that float in the blue sky above.
This is all well and groovy but one feels as though it could do with more of the jarring, acid-freak moments the band’s debut threw up from time to time, jolting you out of your pipe dream to ask “where the hell are we?” or “what’s going on, man?”
Lonerism seems content to just recline and say, with a mellow grin, “it’s all good, brother.” It takes you out of your body on a wonderful flight but a little more turbulence would have been welcome.
Reviewer: Nick Amies
IRC: Tom Byrne
You can read more of Nick Amies by visiting his webblog at http://ligger.wordpress.com/
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