First Impressions of 'Currents' by Tame Impala
I can think of few opening statements as bold as ‘Let It Happen’. Kevin Parker is a master of the studio as an instrument – the most jaw-dropping moment on Lonerism is at 4:07 in ‘Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control’, when the entire mix is sucked into a vortex and spat back out on a wave of glimmering, sickly synthesisers. It’s the kind of thing that most people in the rock world wouldn’t even think of doing, because it defies every normal rule of ‘taste’. Then again, slathering your entire mix in phaser is also generally considered tasteless, and Kevin Parker clearly has no problem with doing that either. This is a good thing – most truly transcendent music could be considered somewhat tasteless. ‘Let It Happen’ has one of these moments, when the mix starts skipping and repeating until the repetition itself becomes a new beat and the song morphs into an entirely different creature. It almost reminds me of Andy Kaufman’s legendary bongo routine (https://youtu.be/f3UG8jP3A8M?t=372). This is psychedelic music as it was originally conceived, breaking free of preconceived ideas of how songs should work and helping to write a new language for rock music going forward into the 21st century.
The rest of Currents doesn’t quite reach this peak, although the previously released singles ‘Cause I’m A Man’ and ‘Eventually’ are fantastic and there is pretty much no filler. The album flows so perfectly that it may as well be a single continuous piece. The songs in between the singles are generally downbeat, and the use in synths in particular reminds me of Bankrupt! by Phoenix, an act increasingly indebted to the sounds of the 80’s, as well as pretty much anything by their Parisian contemporaries Air - it’s no coincidence that Kevin Parker has cited Talkie Walkie as one of his favourite albums. I can’t help but think that this is a misstep, looking back to the sounds of the past rather than to the sounds of the future, but I’m totally biased in this assessment – I’m not a big fan of 80’s music, so Tame Impala’s swerve into the sounds of that decade doesn’t really do it for me. I had no problem with Innerspeaker’s blatant appropriation of 60’s rock, because I really like 60’s rock. The only time that this 80’s vibe really bothers me is ‘Love/Paranoia’, where Parker’s patented romantic solipsism feels a bit silly surrounded by all this borrowed glitz and glamour. Luckily it’s immediately followed by ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’, which rides a slinky, sinister groove off into the night. It’s definitely the best closer to a Tame Impala album so far, and makes me want to immediately dive back into ‘Let It Happen’.
Objectively, the album sounds fantastic overall, as Kevin Parker’s decision to helm the mixing desk has allowed him an insane amount of control over the fine details. Currents is an incredible achievement – you won’t hear many other high quality albums released this year that were entirely written, recorded, and mixed by a single person. It took me a few weeks of listening to start to appreciate the details of Lonerism and to judge each song on its own merits, and I fully expect the same thing to happen with Currents. As it is after a few days and half a dozen listens, I’m glad that Kevin Parker has refused to rest on his laurels and release Lonerism 2.0. Currents is the product of a singular vision, and that is something to be celebrated in a time where so much rock music is tailored to other people’s expectations.