Compact Review: Tame Impala’s Currents

Tame Impala – Currents
Released: July 17, 2015
Rating: 89/100

I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable on the Tame Impala hype train. I enjoyed, but did not love, their first two albums Innerspeaker (2010) and Lonerism (2012). Their particular brand of psych-rock experimentation always seemed a little messy and rather Beatlesy to me and while I can appreciate it, I was not born with a genetic predisposition to worship it (I grew up in a decidedly Rolling Stones household where we all but ignored The Beatles). Plenty of folks hold those albums in very high esteem and in the months preceding its release, the gravitational pull of hype that surrounded Tame Impala’s third album grew to cosmic levels. I followed my buddies to Tame Impala’s set at Coachella with an open mind and left neither disappointed nor impressed. Throughout the summer, the whirlwind of expectation and speculation grew so fierce that by the time Currents arrived last month, even I found myself surprisingly excited to hear what Tame Impala had cooked up.

Currents represents a radical new direction for Tame Impala and it’s totally my speed. The fuzzy psychadleic guitar pop of their previous records has been replaced by a more taut electronic aesthetic and several songs on the album seem to openly reference the sea change that has taken place. The album opens with “Let It Happen” which implores the group’s established fanbase to keep an open mind and embrace the new sound. Behind it all is Kevin Parker, the mastermind who has taken Tame Impala from bedroom recording project to high profile indie rock elite. The lyrics on “Let It Happen” suggest that Currents is what Tame Impala was meant to be from the start and it just took some soul searching to admit it. Skillful adaptation is a necessary survival skill for any band and as Parker sings on “Yes I’m Changing”:

They say people never change,
But that’s bullshit, they do
Yes I’m changing, can’t stop it now

While some fans are undoubtedly put off by this course correction, I welcome the metamorphosis with open arms.

Currents is a remarkably precise record. The crystalline production is reminiscent of other immaculate sounding albums like Daft Punk’s iconic Random Access Memories or M83’s gorgeous Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Those are two of my favorite albums from the past several years and I hesitate to draw the comparison, but Currents sounds that good. Little details like the CD stutter on “Let It Happen”, the vocal effects and filters of “Past Life”, and the stereo phasing flutter of “The Moment” feel like purposefully articulate nuances that add both depth and subtlety to the experience of Currents.

Watch this incredible official video of Tame Impala Muppets performing “Cause I’m A Man”

More than the fancy new synthesizer toys and studio wizardry employed by Kevin Parker & Co., Currents is fueled groove and melody. On the Prince-like “Cause I’m A Man”, Tame Impala transforms into a muscular R&B sex machine and the result is stunningly stylish and seductive; a rare feat for a wacky little indie rock band. The riff on “The Less I Know The Better” is compelling enough to drag even the most firmly routed wallflower to the dance floor. But even the most pop friendly tracks like “Reality In Motion” feel grounded in honest artistry and at no point do I ever feel like Parker is pandering. The new sound isn’t more accessible and friendly for the purpose of buying votes; it’s a genuine product of Tame Impala trying some new sounds that just happen to fit better than the old outfits.

I never expected Kevin Parker to make a record like Currents but I’m delighted to find that Innerspeaker and Lonerism were just the warm up. Had Tame Impala released the record their fans expected, I believe their career trajectory would have taken a steep downturn. By polishing and reinventing their sound, they stand poised to rapidly expand their fanbase as well as their ceiling. Currents is a thoroughly enjoyable, profoundly accessible and intensely compelling record and one of this year’s defining releases.

Top Tracks: “Cause I’m A Man”, “Let It Happen”, “Eventually”

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