Tame Impala is among a league of artists to unfortunately be pegged “revivalist bands.”
While the Australian band may have an unmistakable resemblance to certain rock bands of yesteryear, every aspect of its merit and artistry is seen as a deliberate attempt to recreate said era.
This is rather unfortunate for the Tame Impala, considering such a resemblance is only surface level; the sounds and songs on “Lonerism” are not a calculated attempt to dwell in the past.
The album consists of some of the most forward-thinking, inspired psychedelic rock songs to come out in quite a while.
A more apt description for Tame Impala would be a “musician’s band,” as there is much virtuosity and melodic interplay to be found here.
Tame Impala come across as a finely tuned, well-oiled machine, with each member fully capable and qualified – and sometimes threatening – to break out at any point, but instead restraining their output in favor of adding subtle color and character to the whole.
The way they play off each other is rather inspiring, too; you never get the sense that they are overtly exhibiting their chops, but instead they jell and build off of each other as their jams slowly unfurl.
Anchoring the proceedings is Kevin Parker, the band’s main vocalist, songwriter and producer. Parker teamed up with famed super-producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, MGMT, Sparklehorse) to make the most of the gadgets at their disposal.
This is probably where the clearest distinction between Tame Impala and other “classical-minded” bands is evident; the band may write familiar melodies, but it is completely distorted and enhanced by the artifice of modern technology.
Songs often build off of odd sonic elements, like spoken samples (“Be Above It”), menacing synthesizers and electronic textures (“Mind Mischief” and “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”), or even dramatic mid-song switches in recording fidelity (“Apocalypse Dreams”).
Fridmann’s warm, inviting texturing and emphasis on sonic nuance plays much to the band’s advantage as well as it all adds great heft to the band’s skyward riffing.
There is also a curious juxtaposition on display as well. Despite the underscoring of sunny, nostalgic melody and atmosphere, there is an evasive melancholy to be found buried underneath.
Parker’s voice croons and aches at times and yet, just when it seems like it threatens to overwhelm the band’s overly sunny disposition, it often evaporates into the ethers, scraping the top of the mix.
The lyrics are often obscured and purposefully hidden beneath the instrumentation, but those that are discernible reveal a great deal of isolation, loneliness and discord with the world.
This almost serves as a direct allegory to the record and certain song titles. “Lonerism” is exhibited through “Why Won’t They Take To Me?,” “Mind Mischief,” “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” and the verbose “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control.”
In other words, the presentation has a direct correlation with the content: Both show an elusive despondency and detachment buried beneath a friendly, joyous exterior.
What helps to make this sadness more digestible is the band’s ineffable use of classic riffing and melodies. It really only takes one or two listens to fully appreciate the craftsmanship of tracks like “Elephant” and “Apocalypse Dreams.”
It certainly helps that Tame Impala has an equally adventurous spirit as well; these songs evolve and shift quite naturally while still maintaining an expressive clarity and keeping their melodic sensibilities consistent across the entire album.
Where such melodies could threaten to become overly familiar and interchangeable, the band’s attention to sonic detail, texture, and bold exploration of studio devices ultimately make this a fascinating listen.
There are moments in the trip that you will surely cherish or remember more than others, but the whole album plays like one constant, long-burning collage of colors and feelings.
Benjamin Finn can be reached a [email protected]