Tame Impala’s high dive into the ’20s: a look into the legacy and future of the psych pop champions
By: Conrad Talamantes
It could be debated that Tame Impala might have been the biggest band of the previous decade. Recorded all by music mastermind Kevin Parker(with a backing band for live performances) the band has immensely grown over the past ten years and managed to balance out a successful sound that appeals to the masses while still keeping true to the original source material that kept its old fans interested.
Their debut album “Innerspeaker” came out in 2010 and played a huge role in ushering in a new era of psych rock. Flaunting a classic ’60s foundation akin to early Pink Floyd and hippie era Beatles with a sleek millennial facelift, “Innerspeaker” was about as successful as a first album could be, especially in a decade where rock is no longer the top genre.
A few years later, the bands sophomore LP “Lonerism”(2012) shed a thin layer of that ’60s influence and expanded its modern identity by utilizing more pop-based melodies and contemporary synth keyboard frequencies while the bass, drums, and guitars still kept a proper psychedelic groove. The result was a sound that kept Tame Impala ahead of the curve in a time where imitation bands began crawling out the depths of the internet.
By 2015, Kevin and co. had already earned a significant amount of success with these first two releases, but it was the giant that was “Currents” that skyrocketed Tame Impala into massive popular recognition. Compared to the first two, “Currents” had a much cleaner production sound and song structure. The previously loose lo-fi drums and fuzzy bass lines that kept the groovy jam band vibe within the project almost completely vanished. In its place, a high quality crisp drum sound and tight consistent rhythms not too different from a sensual R&B or hip-hop beat. Natural guitar sounds faded away as dreamy keys took the front. On many songs, vocals were now in a higher pitch and a style that seemed like an ode to Prince or Michael Jackson. Still with all this mainstream infection spreading throughout the album, “Currents” managed to stand out among the rest of what is normally considered pop music. This is largely due to Parker’s signature, albeit now subtle, psych rock foundation that allows him to explore new sounds while still making catchy pop jingles . The result is something for everyone: a well balanced album that’s enough of a trippy sonic odyssey to keep the hipsters happy while also harboring all the right soulful summertime pop vibes to catch the attention of the mainstream crowd.
For almost four years, “Currents” stood as a pillar of pop music among the youth. You’d be just as likely to hear songs from the album like “Let It Happen” and “The Less I Know the Better” at a random house party today as you would when it first came out. Still, the world was patiently waiting for the band’s next release.
Finally, in 2019 Tame Impala began its leap back into the spotlight with the release of new material. “Patience” came out in late March and brought with it a tweak on the modern pop sound of the last album by utilizing bright organic piano chords and a steady background bongo beat to produce a glitzy and glamourous disco-esque dance track. “Borderline” came out just weeks after, bearing many of the same qualities as its predecessor, with the addition of sparse flute sections to add a certain air of warm charm to the mix.
Later in the year, two more singles were released: “It Might Be Time” in October and “Posthumous Forgiveness” in December. Anybody who worried that Parker was losing his psychedelic edge, given the lack of anything spacey on the springtime singles, was sure to be pleasantly reassured with these two brain flippers. Both songs feature the return of old Tame Impala qualities such as glowing neon synth melodies that sound like laser beams and vocal performances that take on a bit more of a melancholic tone. The drum production has a touch of more grit in its sound, giving the songs overall a small fuzzy boost in attitude.
Their latest song “Lost In Yesterday” came out on Jan. 8 and is the last single before the release of their new album “The Slow Rush,” which is set to release on Feb. 14. This track finds a solid middle ground between the two separate worlds that the band presented in 2019. The keys have a distinct synth timbre that leans on the psychedelic side, but the chord progressions are minimal and relate much more to the disco-pop influence of the first two singles. The same could be said about the bass and guitar: a thick muddy rock-and-roll tone with sleek dance floor melodies. The drums are the opposite, incorporating high production sound with an unorthodox yet fluid beat that utilizes intricate hi-hat work and a plethora of repetitive descending drum rolls. Parker’s vocals also follow this middle ground strategy, with a tone that sounds a bit melancholic, but he manages to keep a breath of positivity and relaxation. The lyrics also delve into this attitude, describing the pains of regret and nostalgia while also accepting that one can only keep moving and looking forward when dealing with these feelings.
“Cause it might’ve been somethin’, who’s to say?
Does it help to get lost in yesterday?
And you might’ve missed somethin’, don’t say
Cause it has to be lost in yesterday”
As far as evolution goes, “Lost In Yesterday” and the rest of the singles aren’t too different from the shiny dreamy melodies of “Currents,” but that isn’t a bad thing. “Currents” is huge for a reason, and the current songs that are previewed to be on this new album are a splendid extension of that infectious sound, with a respectable nod to that old groovy sound on their first two albums. Parker’s voice varies from song to song, sometimes high and soulful, sometimes a downtrodden croon; and while the drums and bass are still in a cloud of soul and R&B inspiration, we’re graced with the return of more prevalent guitars and synth keyboards that blend the classic ’60s psychic organ sound with the cutting edge tones of proper modern music technology
This return of form has worked much of Tame Impala’s fanbase into a high level of excitement. While the band has been steadily touring throughout the decade, fans are relieved to witness the continuation of the musical legacy of psych pop’s champion; eagerly anticipating Feb. 14. Considering the early release and relatively lack of major new music so far, there are a lot of high hopes floating around “The Slow Rush” for 2020. If the album is able to live up to its current hype, Tame Impala will have successfully been one of the few bands to usher us into a new decade of modern sound.