, October 3rd, 2012 08:42
Ask Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker what drives him to make music, and he'll describe the artistic urge as "a symptom of a directionless existence"; push him further on the subject and he'll go on to explain that bumming around in the sun, getting stoned and jamming with mates is as intrinsic a part of the Western Australian lifestyle as draining a tinny while chucking another shrimp on the barbie. But for all the laziness and apathy implied within such a sweeping, stereotypical statement, there are an awful lot of frighteningly prolific bands currently operating in and around the Perth area - Pond, Space Lime Peacock, Mink Mussel Creek et al - most of whom seem to have included Parker amongst their line-ups at one point or another.
Just 26 years old, Parker's reputation as a gifted multi-instrumentalist and DIY producer had him singled out as a big fish in that particular pond long before Tame Impala scored a worldwide critical hit with debut LP Innerspeaker; now a known name in wider circles (that record won awards at home and abroad, and was named Rolling Stone's 'Album of 2010'), one might reasonably expect some degree of self-indulgence on follow-up Lonerism, but despite keeping starrier company these days - hanging out with the Flaming Lips and having his songs remixed by Todd Rundgren - Parker's approach to recording remains refreshingly down-to-earth. Like its predecessor, Parker performed the majority of the album's musical parts and produced it himself, artlessly piling one track on top of another to create huge walls of sound. As before, Dave Fridmann helped with the final mix, but in terms of rock & roll excess we’re hardly talking typical “second album syndrome” behaviour like drafting in string sections and gospel choirs; here Parker's still using the same limited palette - guitars, synths, drums - to make music that sounds, frankly, fucking huge.
That said, if Innerspeaker seemed - deceptively, so it turned out - like the work of a band recorded live and then fed through various FX pedals and filters, Lonerism is more obviously a studio creation. The first time I heard the former, I was in a car with my dad and we both remarked on how much the band, as we thought them to be, sounded like a contemporary version of a classic 60s power trio (I said the Jimi Hendrix Experience, he said Cream); that record does, after all, open with a lonesome bass-line before a chiming guitar and, finally, live drums join in, making the assumption that the recording was a group effort perfectly reasonable. Conversely, Lonerism's opening track, 'Gotta Be Above It', starts with the repeated titular sample and a looped drum-beat, to which Parker adds phased synths and FX-heavy vocals, layering in and manipulating new elements like some stereo-obsessed mad scientist, and whilst these songs will no doubt sound immense when rendered by the touring players that we see posing as “the band” in press shots, they are clearly the product of a single Brian Wilson-like mastermind.
It's another 60s icon, though, whose influence is most apparent here. The ghost of John Lennon haunts Lonerism, in its acidic melodies - particularly 'Tomorrow Never Knows'-alike 'Why Won't They Talk To Me' - and in Parker's sneering vocal, which sounds much of the time like Lennon floating in zero gravity. Though the record hinges around the same kind of swinging space-age stoner rock that characterized the debut, this is clearly an artist in thrall to the Fab Four's post-Revolver output, synthesising 'A Day In The Life's symphonic cacophony on the piano-pounding 'Apocalypse Dreams', dropping 'Revolution No. 9'-style crowd chatter and manic laughter over 'Keep On Lying's central groove, and making sly references to LSD experiments in song titles like 'Mind Mischief' and 'Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Can Control'. The record’s towering twin peaks both find Parker venturing even further out. 'Feels Like We Only Go Backwards' marries melancholy slow-motion pop to dubbed-up barbershop soul, whilst the stampeding glam-blues beast 'Elephant' somehow manages to recall both Queen and Queens Of The Stone Age.
"This could be the day that we push through," sings Parker on 'Apocalypse Dreams', and it’s entirely possible he’s not just talking about drugs. This is a progressive, accessible album that could take Tame Impala to the next level, or the mainstream, whichever comes first. Not bad work for a directionless layabout.