Tame Impala


In another world, it was this way all along. Bands who loved the 60s understood that the reason to love the 60s is not simply the music, but what animated the people who made the music. Which is the impulse to go forwards. Or at the very least, look upwards. To stand on the shoulders of giants in order to climb to somewhere previously unreachable, rather than to lean down and pick their pockets.

In another world, the last twenty years of commercially successful 60s rock-influenced music didn’t start with Oasis and grind its way downhill via Ocean Colour Scene towards Kasabian and, eventually, and with a certain dispiriting neatness, the nadir of ex-members of Oasis gnawing at their own band’s dusty bones. In another world, those twenty years happened something like this.

But not exactly like this, because that’s all hypothetical and Tame Impala are, for all intents and purposes, real. A thing you can hear rather than simply imagine. And while there are reasons to admire them for what they are not (one may credit them with being a Bizarro World Kasabian, but it would be missing the point to define them thus), the pleasure in Tame Impala is all in what they are.

What they are, on Currents – their third album, and the first since Lonerism brought them deserved renown three years ago – is something fluid, delicate and magical. They’ve looked upwards. They’ve gone forwards.

Currents is not, I’d guess, a title simply plucked from the ether. It describes the album just so. It is a series of songs in which you immerse yourself, not to be engulfed and swept headlong this way and that, but to be borne along gently, as if gliding in a giant inner tube on bright sunlit streams fed by a deep and distant well of melancholy. It is sparkling and wistful, and it’s quite lovely.

That, at any rate, is how it feels, which is the first thing, always. The next thing is how it sounds, and why. On Currents, Tame Impala show themselves entirely in command of a recognisable set of sources, and able to fashion them into a something at once familiar yet fresh – in the way that, for instance, LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip have done. (Indeed, it is hard to think of a spirit more kindred to Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, who writes and records as a soloist then tours at the head of a band, than LCD’s James Murphy.)

What may surprise you – it did me – is that this isn’t just an analogy about method. This time, Tame Impala share some of those bands’ sources. Where LCD and Hot Chip stretched back only a little bit further than early 80s synth-pop, Tame Impala have now stretched forward to it – and even taken in new wave on the way, if ‘Disciples’ is anything to go by. On Currents, the percussion in particular owes a great deal to that era, as do the woozy analogue synth sounds. It’s still a record with its roots in the 60s, just one whose creators saw no reason to keep its branches there too. At times, not least at the start of ‘Past Life’ – which then transforms into a monologue about lost love, and the triumph (or perhaps disaster) of hope over experience – I wonder if Parker has been listening to ‘Steve McQueen’ by Prefab Sprout. Perhaps he’s sought to capture that same swirling, dense, emotive prettiness which became inseparable from its wondrous songs.

Everything on Currents evokes something without ever pastiching that thing, or even settling directly upon it. The point of music is never to provide an object lesson in anything – it is to be experienced, heard and felt – but all the same, Currents does provide one, in how to be at once retrospectively inspired and progressively minded. ‘The Less I Know The Better’ is funky disco-rock, but you won’t often hear it so sweetly haunted as here. In ‘The Moment’ you find yourself listening to a Tears For Fears record, and ‘Yes I’m Changing’ might briefly be The Cars. Then the banks of the stream widen, the vista branches outward, and again you’re floating and basking in that uncanny place you simultaneously know and don’t know. The dream that’s not a dream, but certainly isn’t the ordinary world either. There are many ways to effect the psychedelic; this is just one, and a calmer, balmier, more dulcet mode than most of the others. You might say Parker has a talent for shaping bubblegum into beguiling fractals. Sod it, I will say it. He does.

Throughout, Parker treats his high, frail, fluting countertenor as an instrument in itself, which of course it is. He weaves it through the songs as he might do a keyboard or guitar pattern, all phase and effects, an aromatic smoke ring of a voice; with the curious result that it seems to stem directly from the heart, far more than it might were it unadorned and naked.

There are passages (‘Nangs’, ”Cause I’m A Man’) where Currents is a close companion to Gayngs’ enchanted 2010 release, Relayted, which took as its cue the mood and tempo of ‘I’m Not In Love’ by 10cc – a track without which Currents too might not exist in the form it does. You can’t count the strands in it. It would be pointless to try, and with each play I spot new ones – resemblances which might be references or might be accidents, but which cohere to make a whole not necessarily greater but appreciably lighter than the sum of its parts. That’s the fun of it. But the real joy of it is in settling back, rudderless and with the radar off, and letting Currents carry you wherever it will.

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