Album Review: Tame Impala – ‘Currents’

FROM the outset it was clear that Currents marked a change in direction for the Australian Psych-Rock band. Singles like ‘Let It Happen’ and ‘Cause I’m a Man’ largely swapped out guitars for synthesisers and had a distinctly more electronic sound. Questions surrounding just how far the shift had been made away from the band’s traditional sound and whether it would work danced around my head in the run up to its release.

We saw a steady progression from Innerspeaker to Lonerism, Parker’s emphasis on pop melodies fused with more traditional psychedelic rock gave the record a unique sound that made the band so successful. It’s easy to point out the improvements that Lonerism made over its predecessor, few would disagree that it’s a better album. Currents isn’t as easy to put your finger on and its a different project all together. Following the release of the first few tracks, many fans lamented that the album was straying too far into the murky depths of electronic music, still yearning for the all familiar psych-rock sound that they have grown accustomed to. If you’re looking for another Lonerism then you’re going to be disappointed, but this isn’t the way the album was meant to be listened to.

Currents is certainly Parker’s most stylistically diverse project. The shackles have been lifted from a man who felt bound by other people’s expectations of what ‘fits in the realm of traditional psych rock’. It’s clear that the success of the bands’ previous two albums has given him creative licence to push more and more towards the kind of music he wants to make, ‘Crunchy dream pop’ he calls it. This doesn’t mean that he doesn’t enjoy making Lonerism-esque music, but that’s done, accomplished, and he’s looking forward, pushing the boundaries and seeing what new things he can create. Whilst Lonerism and Innerspeaker were very much insular records, Parker aims to break free from that isolated place, with an album he says he ‘wants to join the rest of the world’ with. And so here we arrive at Currents.

The opening track aims to set the tone for the whole album. ‘Let It Happen’ is a punchy anthem which could easily have been placed at the end to go out on a high. Instead it sits first, plunging you straight into a diverse showcase of the different sounds that you can expect to hear throughout the 51 minutes. Looped drum samples, orchestral symphonies and seamlessness make it shine. ‘Nangs’ is a beautiful gateway into the rest of the album. Hazy synths layered with dreamy vocals make it perfect for bridging the high from the opening track and easing you into the next. I was surprised though when it faded out in less than 2 minutes, just as the drumbeat had established itself. Despite wishing it had carried on for longer, there is never to long to wait before a new sugary sweet melody pops up to satisfy your craving.

There is a strong backbone throughout the album, the grooving bass that made tracks like ‘Elephant’ a hit is present again. The focus on getting people up and dancing and a smaller role for the lead guitar means that the bass is perhaps even more important here, driving the album from start to finish. Parker’s production is sublime as always. No doubt time spent with super-producer and industry heavyweight Mark Ronson had an influence on Currents. Despite being an album that’s meant to be played on booming speakers to a crowded room, there’s another side to it that can be enjoyed on high quality headphones. It’s here that the crisp production really shines, peppered with finger snaps and and delicate chimes that make it a joy to listen to.

The album isn’t without its faults, however. Whilst it’s unfair to compare the music directly with Lonerism, it certainly feels less well structured than it’s predecessor. With Currents I was left waiting for a few seconds for the next track to start before I realised it had actually finished. Meaning that the slow fade out at the end of ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’ is somewhat anticlimactic, especially considering the attention to detail he is known for.

Parker is a notorious perfectionist. He has spoken about psychedelic music and how he always wants to be transported by it. It would seem that by this criteria, his album is a psychedelic success. The music is deep, well produced and it will take you away to a different place. I can’t help but miss the sprawling cosmic journeys that Lonerism offered, but it’s clear that he isn’t aiming to repeat himself here, and is evolving as an artist. Parker makes it clear that he is reinventing himself (‘Yes, I’m Changing’) but this isn’t in a drastic mid-life crisis sort of way. Rather it’s much more of an organic process, this is an album about accepting and embracing the natural change that’s bound to occur as your life develops, and it does so excellently.

Currents is released 17th July.

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