Dive into Tame Impala’s new album ‘The Slow Rush’

A concept album with LA atmospheres and themes about time

Courtesy+of+Tame+Impala%27s+Facebook+page

Courtesy of Tame Impala's Facebook page

By Quinn He, Assistant Arts Editor

“Has it really been that long?” Kevin Parker asks in the single, “Patience.” To some fans, maybe, but Tame Impala’s fourth studio album, “The Slow Rush,” was finally released on Feb. 14, 2020.

Fans could smell a new album on the horizon after Tame Impala’s “Patience” and “Borderline” were released as singles in March and April of 2019 respectively. In October of last year, those speculations were confirmed. Tame Impala’s website featured a short 1:38 clip with Kevin Parker in his studio smoking a joint, finishing a glass of wine and creating Tame Impala’s psychedelic soundscapes like he’s always done. After the release of “Currents,” this album’s instrumentation feels like the natural progression Parker was going to take with Tame Impala. At moments, “The Slow Rush” trades the guitar for house style piano lines that become intertwined with Parker’s signature phased out drum backbeats that inject life into many Tame Impala tracks.

The album’s almost 58-minute run time holds 12 songs, three of which are singles: “It Might Be Time,” “Posthumous Forgiveness” and “Lost in Yesterday.” “Lost in Yesterday” is currently the only music video for the new album, but more may trickle in during the coming weeks, giving the songs time to marinate in the ears of fans. The “Lost in Yesterday” music video and album announcement trailer both have a veil of nostalgia as they appear to be shot using 33mm film, giving the videos a grainy, warm aesthetic. Along with the passage of time, longing and letting go are just some of the core themes of this album; it’s clear why Parker chose this certain style of recording for both of his videos. Retro headphones, reel to reel tape recorders and other older recording equipment can be spotted during the course of both videos.

As with every new Tame Impala album, “The Slow Rush” marks another drastic shift in Parker’s style, but at the same time, it holds together the elements that make Tame Impala so unique. The melancholic lyrics are still artfully paired with intricately layered synths and clever melodies, but this time around, Parker dove headfirst into the psychedelic disco genre, a style of music he shines at creating. Fans that have been around since 2011’s “Innerspeaker” will already be accustomed to Tame Impala’s shift in style through each new project, but comparing this album to “Innerspeaker” is akin to the cliché of comparing apples to oranges as Tame Impala’s sound has evolved greatly since the early days.

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that the same person that made the intense, disco-pop groove, “Lost in Yesterday” was the same reserved and meditative person who produced the melancholic and introspective “It’s Not Meant to Be” around ten years ago. However, as the album touches on, the passage of time brings many changes throughout life, whether desired or not. It’s apparent Parker is taking Tame Impala in new and attractive directions yet again, but throughout the album he maintains the same ingredients that make a Tame Impala album unique:  Vocals, drowned in delay and reverb, entire fragments of a song shoved through a phaser effect, inviting it to breathe through the speakers, arpeggios mingling with those unmistakable, punchy drums. With “The Slow Rush,” Parker’s masterful production skills are once again on full display.

One More Year,” the first song on the album, perfectly introduces the mains themes and styles going forward. The stuttering and hypnotizing vocals, echoing “one more year,” pan back and forth between headphones as a pop filled backbeat opens up down the middle of the mix. This vocoder covered voice soon falls to the background as Parker’s opens the foreground echoing “do you remember we were standing here a year ago? Our minds were racing and time went slow.” Parker grapples with not letting the limiting factors of time get in the way of what someone want to do in life and how they want to live it. The song continues to plead for one more year “of livin’ like the free spirit I wanna be” and “Not carin’ if we do the same thing every week.” With the title of “One More Year,” the theme of the rest of the album is intently laid out for the audience.

The album version of “Borderline” has been reworked since the previous single was released in 2019 and it is arguably for the better. As someone who is meticulous about sound and music, many fans seemed interested in what a reworked single would look like as it marks the first time Kevin Parker has done such a thing. The noticeable difference is uncovered around the one second mark as instead of Parker’s, now staple, vocal melody to open the track, a single note is hit as the recognizable backbeat jumps in. The album version of “Borderline” sounds fuller and more alive with a ramped-up funky, beefy bass and carefully placed backing vocals.

During “Posthumous Forgiveness,” Parker conveys resentment and bitterness towards his father for the divorce that affected him when he was a child. The breathing bongos and plucky guitar riff are seamlessly traded for a lush and wobbly synth, like a calming wave, as the song transitions into a second act that hold characteristics of “Currents.” For this second part of the song, Parker yearns for all the things he could tell his late father; his resentment has disappeared, leaving only sorrow and longing to tell his father of the life he has led so far. His father, who passed away before he could witness the success of Tame Impala, was one of the first people to introduce Parker to music. In past releases, Parker’s father was alluded to in a handful of songs, but now the curtain has been lifted and this emotional track hits the audience early in the album.

Parker sat down with Zane Lowe and Apple Music to talk about his new album. In the interview, Lowe and Parker discuss the concept of the album, Parker’s inspiration and him getting high on mushrooms and burying his ARIA award, an Australian music award, in his backyard. Parker talks about his time away from Tame Impala in the time between “Currents” and “The Slow Rush.” After working with Travis Scott, Parker took from the experience that “doubt and all that kind of stuff is poisonous in creativity,” a mantra that he continued to use since that experience and one that I imagine helped him through the recording of his new album. Parker and Lowe discuss the evolution of Tame Impala, mulling over how Parker started by playing for a couple hundred people while barefoot and his head down, eyes glued to his expansive pedal board, to Tame Impala headlining music festivals with a colossal, pulsating ring and an unfathomable amount of confetti in only a few years’ time. They also get to talk about Parker’s painstaking attention to detail on his songs. While being that fastidious about what you put out is a noble quality, at times Parker can feel the immense burden of writing, recording and producing such a monumental project like a Tame Impala album.

A track that jumps out in front of the rest is “Tomorrow’s Dust,” the sixth song on this album. This song again touches on the aspect of time and not harping on events of the past; Parker pleads, “there’s no use trying to relate to that older soul.” The title, “Tomorrow’s Dust,” comes up in the line at the end of each chorus, “and in the air of today is tomorrow’s dust,” displaying the fleeting nature of time. These lyrics are supported by a wonderful instrumentation that leaves me picturing the Hollywood Hills on a sun blanketed morning as the finger picking guitar riff melts between bongos, drums and a whirling synthesizer. The outro of the song tosses the listener into a spacey room with the previous track, “Breathe Deeper,” playing in the background as two people talk over the track, adding a nice call back possibly representing a sort of previous “yesterday.” Similar to the recording process of 2012’s “Lonerism,” samples taken by Parker are scattered through a few songs on this album.

The mood again changes on this album as a soft piano opens “On Track” with a slow, beautiful build that eventually blossoms in the outro as the bridge vocals are repeated with swelling synthesizers. Parker reaches for joyous falsettos, mingling with a phaser effect and a bouncy piano chord progression. Shimmering synthesizers glisten in the background while Kevin Parker sings about life bumping you around, but still managing to be on track. Further discussed in the chorus, is the idea that Parker can see his dreams ahead of him with the line, “and all of my dreams are still in sight.” The next few lines give reassurance that his whole life is ahead of him to accomplish those goals, regardless of a few hurdles thrown his way; there is still time.

With “The Slow Rush,” Parker’s skills as a producer, instrumentalist and songwriter are at the top of their game. As with every Tame Impala album, there is no song that doesn’t deserve a spot on this album. Each one takes on different aspects relating to time and the passage of it, the drug-like effect of nostalgia, longing for the past or putting it behind you and focusing on life to come. With every new listen, the album becomes better and different sounds find their way into the listener’s ears that were at one point lost in the intricate layering of colorful sounds. Most notably, “Instant Destiny” and “Is it True” caught my ear the more I gave them a listen. Part of the beauty in “The Slow Rush” rests in its ability to be listened to in the intimacy of a pair of headphones or the open hall of a dance club.

Starting the album off with “One More Year” and concluding with “One More Hour” wraps the album up well as Kevin Parker’s fourth studio album closes with a song full of exploding, phased out drums, a whirlwind like arpeggio and a fuzzy guitar riff. The time has come and for the outro, Parker captivates until that very last minute. With “The Slow Rush,” Tame Impala is starting off the decade on a high note with a fantastically orchestrated album that is once again a living, breathing piece of music stuffed with emotional lyrics and synthesizers. It will be interesting to see how the new album translates over into a live performance.

Quinn He can be reached at [email protected]