Australia's Tame Impala have a new album due out July 17th (Friday release dates, y'all!), and have released a smattering of singles (literally, half the album is already out) to tease the highly-anticipated 'Currents'.
Tame Impala has been playing the festival circuit all summer, and put on an incredible show at Sasquatch in June that felt absolutely massive and perfect; the sun was setting behind the band, cascading through the breathtaking surroundings of The Gorge, and the combination of the band's light show, the gauzy haze of smoke coming from both the stage and the crowd, and the wall of sound coming from the giant PA made for an event that I'll personally never forget. That said, the band didn't play too much off the new album, which shows them either keeping Currents pretty close to their vest or being a little apprehensive about unveiling it to a festival crowd. It's a divisive album for fans of the band's early days of heady psych.
While some of the bass tones (and that bass playing, holy cow) on Currents harken back to the fuzzed out bliss of Innerspeaker, the rest of the band's compositions rely less than ever on typical rock guitar/bass/drums arrangements and now hinge on massive layers of plinky keyboards and compressed, mechanical sounding drums (as well as Kevin Parker's soft falsetto). Tame Impala has always been pretty much a one-man show (mastermind Kevin Parker recorded/mixed the record by himself), but Currents is his most visible artistic/personal struggle. The great deal of Currents is about conflict; conflict with a former lover, conflict with himself, and the knowledge that this record will create conflict within his own fanbase. Parker spends the entirety of Currents wrestling with his confidence to pursue this new direction in sound ("Let It Happen" is essentially a mantra of chasing the muse into uncharted/uncomfortable territory, knowing full well that he could be failing those whose support has given him a career), while other songs hang on the notion of coming to terms with a failed relationship ("Yes I'm Changing", "Eventually"), falling into an almost frustrating loop of daily-affirmations that spend an inordinate amount of time justifying a breakup with storybook endings.
Parker has been quoted talking about an experience driving around Los Angeles, listening to the Bee Gees under the affect of mushrooms. That experience seems to be a giant resonating factor within Currents; disco beats with swirling layers of psychedelic elements interwoven in the songs, dance music with an emotional edge. Structurally, it's a gorgeous album full of texture that obviously took a lot of time to build and craft. It's also a fun listen; each spin reveals new details that weren't previously noticeable. Parker has a gift for making everything sound so effortless, both compositionally and performance-wise, and coats everything in such a branded Tame Impala production style (Parker mixed Currents by himself, marking the first time Tame Impala has made a record without Dave Fridmann) that the album flows along breezily without ever feeling like a chore. In that, though, fans of Parker's earlier work (myself included) will find themselves fighting the feeling of this incredibly concicse pop soundscape, frustratedly longing for some of the speaker-ripping sonic bombast of Innerspeaker. For the moment, that's not where Kevin Parker is. At best, Parker is aiming high and trying to bridge the gap between 60's psych, 70's disco, and a healthy dose of 80's pop (with maybe a tiny sprinkle of contemporary dance/EDM thrown in). At worst, he's writing glossy anthems whose production makes them sound a lot better than the sum of their parts. Album closer "New Person, Same Old Mistakes" heads the "sell out" argument off right at the pass, with Parker singing "I know that you think it's fake/maybe fake's what I like", and Parker leaves himself an open door to do anything he wants in the name of creative freedom. If nothing else, Parker just blipped pretty significantly on the radar of a lot of important folks to produce their next album; if this ends up creating some giant psych rock renaissance in pop music, is that such a bad thing?
One thing is certain, though; Currents will be an inescapable record for the remainder of 2015.
Thoughts? Leave your comments below.