Tame Impala – ‘Currents’ Review

Posted: by Riley

Much like Kendrick Lamar, Tame Impala faced the daunting task of following up what is considered a modern classic in many circles. Said ‘classic,’ Lonerism, is an expansive psych-rock epic which set a standard of atmosphere and song craft, shaking up the indie-rock landscape and propelling the band to festival headliner status in the process. The years since saw Kevin Parker, the mind behind Tame Impala, progress towards the pop and hip-hop world; he collaborated with Uptown Funk-er Mark Ronson, cited Britney Spears as an influence, and was sampled by A$AP Rocky and aforementioned hip-hop superstar Kendrick Lamar. In early March, a triumphant 8-minute electronic stomper called ‘Let It Happen’ surfaced as the lead single from a Lonerism follow-up. Packed with sparse glitches and an ocean of synthesizers, Parker doesn’t touch a guitar until well after the halfway point of the track – and after a repeated synth loop made listeners check their computers like a scratched CD (remember those?). While many listeners wrote off the band as sell-outs and yearned for the precious sound of a guitar, others saw ‘Let It Happen’ for what it was: a really, really, really good song. Three months and three more (dynamite) singles later, we have Currents – a new album from Tame Impala. And once again like Kendrick Lamar, the follow-up is a risky departure from the sound that made them the force they are, and is somehow just as good as – if not better than – its predecessor.
In the past, Parker’s danceable tracks were often passed for merely “festival-friendly,” but Currents allows for no such interpretation. Dripping with funk and soul influence and pioneered by the producer side of Parker’s mind, Tame Impala’s 3rd proper LP is a full-blown pop record. Whereas Lonerism set its own premise, abandoning convention for vast and intricate musical tapestries, Currents adheres to familiar song structure and packs its songs with all the punch Parker can muster. Aside from lead single ‘Let It Happen,’ the LP is comprised of concise pop songs that rarely meander. While these songs don’t consciously strive for radio play, many of them should make the cut; at the very least, ‘Eventually’ and ‘’Cause I’m a Man’ will make the rounds at “alternative rock” stations and Urban Outfitters everywhere. The former is a psychedelic sugar-pop song constructed around a golden one-word hook; the latter is a soaring alt-soul track, which addresses the male tendency to excuse their own actions by attributing their mistakes to “being a man.” 

The album has no shortage of pop appeal as a whole, either; at times, Currents feels like an absolute hit parade. The frustratingly short, vibrant ‘Disciples’ would feel at home snuggled up next to ‘fFunny fFrends’ on Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s self-titled. ‘Reality in Motion’ – a vivacious, swirling pop-rocker and album standout – may very well receive some airplay and make its way onto a few party playlists, too. I also can’t help but hope MTV picks up ‘The Less I Know The Better’ for a full season; the saucy track finds Parker out on the town and trapped in his head. His damp falsetto retells the misfortune of spotting his old flame out with ‘Trevor,’ and the dilemma he faces when deciding whether to chase after her or “try [his] luck with Heather.”
As for those unwavering guitar purists, synths can often represent dehumanization in music; however, despite the implementation of synths as the ‘lead’ instrument on a majority of these tracks, Currents is undoubtedly the most human record Parker has made. Unlike Lonerism and Innerspeaker before it, this LP finds Kevin Parker with something intriguing to say. And despite the so-called departure from rock, Parker maintains a lot of the same ingredients he’s used in his past projects. But here, he repurposes them with clear narrative and emotional goals; this Tame Impala album offers listeners plenty to chew on. You’ll hear the usual compressed drums, reverb-soaked vocals, and shape-shifting bass lines; with Currents, though, these elements blend together to form real moments of nostalgia, regret, self-examination, and even unadulterated sadness. The calm, contemplative ‘Yes I’m Changing’ is the most sonically lucid track on the effort. Beginning with a candid “I was raging, it was late,” the track is conversational and heartfelt – a sharply sincere piece that Parker stylishly elects not to hinder with his trademark psychedelia. Even then, the most vulnerable moment does not come until later in the tracklist, with the gorgeous ‘Love/Paranoia.’ Whimpering strings cinematically set the tone for an especially nostalgic Parker as he recounts a walk by the ocean with his former love. Then, at his most exposed, he exhales a defenseless “girl, I’m sorry.” This is proof that, despite his naysayers, Parker doesn’t need his guitar to gently weep.
Closer ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’ perfectly depicts what’s going on with the 3rd full-length from Tame impala. A menacing, meaty bass line from Parker is personified, becoming the voice of his conscience, in-turn creating a call-and-response protagonist-antagonist monologue. “Feel like a brand new person” he exclaims before he’s quickly interrupted by the cynical “but you make the same old mistakes.” This minor detail highlights a major theme in the transition from Lonerism to Currents: rather than hiding his thoughts beneath layers of instrumentation, Parker is speaking up. And as he emerges from the fog, one thing is especially clear: whether he’s on stage with a guitar or in the studio staring at his laptop, Kevin Parker is a goddamn rockstar.

Score: 9.0/10

Essential Tracks: ‘’Cause I’m A Man,’ ‘Yes I’m Changing,’ ‘Reality in Motion,’ and ‘The Less I Know The Better’
FFO: Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Ariel Pink, Lower Dens