Kevin Parker, the mastermind behind Australian psych project Tame Impala, is a new man. Third album Currents (out on July 17 via Interscope) at times seems like a personal letter on Parker’s behalf, in which he details the changes he’s gone through in recent years. The music itself also seems to reflect this, opting for synths and programmed drums instead of guitars and live drums, in what has become a conscious shift towards accessible, 80s-influenced psych pop. Whether or not this sonic shift will pay off in the long term remains the important question, because Currents has a lot of expectations to live up to.
The record opens on comeback single Let it Happen, an 8-minute long electro psych banger which sets the scene for the rest of the album. “It’s always around me all this noise, but not nearly as loud as the voice saying, ‘let it happen’” muses Parker in a demure tone during the first verse as his voice eventually becomes swamped by a brooding, hypnotic synthesizer drone. The opening ‘melody’ which sets the pace for Let it Happen is one which remains constant throughout the track, coming and going as it pleases to glue separate sections together. Although the track doesn’t have a proper chorus, this lacking is made up for by an extended mid-section which fuses various elements of disco. The main melody in this section is equal parts euphoric and eerie, eventually coming to a halt as it stops and starts repeatedly. This looped segment proceeds to introduce a new, darker melody to the frame before everything falls back into its right place. Once the main melody returns, a new sense of rejuvenated energy is introduced as Parker sings, his voice heavily masked by a vocoder. Here, his voice sounds downtrodden and upset, something which plays into the feelings of loneliness he expresses throughout Currents. As fuzzy, chugged guitars help the track towards a fade-out, it’s already extremely clear that Parker has a masterpiece on his hands. The wobbly ambience of Nangs, one of three tracks shorter than two minutes, follows as Parker’s echoed vocals ask, “Is there something wrong now?” A light sense of urgency prevails as siren-esque synths and drums enter the frame, making way for The Moment’s upbeat 80s pop. It’s a much more positive tone than the one presented on Let it Happen, this time round focussing on major chord synths and a more prevalent bassline. Electronic and live percussion both intertwine on The Moment as occasional finger clicks help to form its backbone. “It’s getting closer” sings Parker during the chorus, his voice eventually chopped up and laced with effects. A Lonerism esque solo later on helps bring the track to an end, leading into the power balladry of Yes, I’m Changing. From the off, this song carries an emotional tone within its synth progression. “I felt the strangest emotion, but it wasn’t hate for once” sings Parker before he digs deeper into his personal situation to muse about failed relationships. “They say people never change, but that’s bullshit. They do” he sings at one point in a line which stands out more than any other on Currents. The song is laced with melody, newer ones more melodic and sharp than those preceding. It might be a world away from the guitar-centric Innerspeaker and Lonerism, yet both Yes, I’m Changing and The Moment demonstrate a reborn Kevin Parker who is ready to move on, regardless of what it’ll cost him.
Recently released single Eventually continues the emotional tirade on Currents, ramping up the intensity with a slowly progressing siren and powerful guitars. The verse re-enters slower territory as Parker’s smooth vocals are accompanied by a lone, waspy synth. Handclaps and finger clicks form the base of the percussion, yet it’s Parker’s voice which is ultimately the best thing on this song. You can hear the tenderness and depth which his vocals are trying to portray. “Wish I could turn you back into a stranger” he sings, adding, “’cus if I was never in your life, you’d never have to change”. He brushes it off by declaring how he knows he’ll be happier, “eventually”. This makes for exciting listening, with a bubbling synth wobble bursting and kicking the song right back into life. It’s one of the best songs on Currents, yet you could probably say something similar for everything which precedes and follows it. The minute-long electronic wobbles on Gossip come and go in a flash, making way for album highpoint The Less I Know the Better. It’s essentially a mixture of funk-laden guitars, twinkling synths and pacey drums, all three of which combine to form a sickly sweet 80s disco banger. “Pull yourself together” declares Parker during the first verse, his vocals almost drowned out by intertwining guitars, groovy bass and handclap beats. It focusses less on the eloquent psychedelics of previous tracks; rather, it sees Parker writing the perfect pop song. It spans just over three-and-a-half months and features all the hallmarks of a classic. Although Currents by no means has its own equivalent of Elephant, The Less I Know the Better sure comes close. Past Life follows a similar path, forming a concept within itself by means of a monologue and phone call. “I’ve got a pretty solid routine these days, it just works for me” speaks an effects-laden voice as buzzing noises make way for Parker’s vocals. “Well, somewhere between a lover and a friend. It was different back then” continues the speaker, which increasingly sounds like Parker’s own story through an altered voice. This is basically the essence of Currents in one song – Parker using music to disguise his own personal feelings. As the monologue continues, the speaker sounds increasingly depressed and hopeful at the same time, eventually coming to the conclusion that things are just going to be left in the past. A ringing phone brings the track to an end, with a female “hello?” cutting the song off. The short but sweet, guitar-heavy Disciples follows, sounding less melancholic than the rest of the album. “I can tell by your face that no one’s ever been rude to you” states Parker as watery psych guitars and a jangly melody intertwine in a retro tone. At the flick of switch (literally) the track enters the modern age, vaporising all signs of retro flourish as a sweet guitar lick plays the track out.
Over the course of Currents, we’ve seen Parker muse about his personal change in an almost story-like progression, something which the RnB-flecked ‘Cause I’m a Man builds on and develops better than ever. “It dawns on me, what have I done?” asks Parker alongside a groove-laden bassline, twinkly keys and steady drumbeat. He spends the verse deliberating, before blaming it on being a man during the euphoric chorus. “’Cause I’m a man, woman. Don’t always think before I do” he sings calmly whilst being accompanied by a fuzzy, descending guitar line. The combination of live and programmed drums on the track eventually does it plenty of justice, adding an organic feel to the predominantly electronic proceedings. “My weakness is the source of all my pride, I’ll tell you why” he claims just before the chorus, one which is sounded in by pounding snares. Reality in Motion follows, and it’s the closest that Currents will get to sounding like Lonerism. This is mainly down to the massive chorus, one which has been given a massive pop sheen in line with the rest of the album. Although Currents and Lonerism are quite incomparable, Reality in Motion would definitely fit in on the latter, given the addition of an added guitar line. Love Paranoia proceeds to build on more progressive synths (and a xylophone), starting off quite minimal with simple percussion, handclaps and occasional guitar strums. The song takes a while to take off, becoming a mid-paced psych ballad in the process. “And suddenly I’m the phony one, the only one with a problem” declares Parker during a quieter section, making way for brass and strings which help emphasize the RnB feel of the track. The album comes to a close on the funkier New Person, Same Old Mistakes. Its title alludes to failed relationships Parker has encountered, essentially summing up Currents in the space of six minutes. “I’m in love” wails a background voice, being drowned out by Parker’s declaration that he’s still the same person, yet one who makes the “same old mistakes”. “I’m thinking it’s worth a fight, soon I’ll be out of sight” he sings in a significantly demure tone, before the track changes tack and reintroduces lighter guitars. Parker asks one key question towards the end of the track; namely, “I feel like a brand new person, how will I know that it’s right?” It’s a question that he doesn’t need to ask, because these 13 songs have proven that he is so, so right.
In Currents, Kevin Parker and Tame Impala are sitting on a flawless masterpiece. From the opening synths on Let it Happen to the fade out on New Person, Same Old Mistakes, Currents is faultless beyond belief. The significant lack of guitars may have already been a given (Parker worked with producer Mark Ronson on January’s Uptown Special), but that the six-string wa left alone for a while doesn’t mean that the tracks are any less good. Don’t be surprised if you see Currents topping plenty of year-end lists this year, because that’s exactly where it deserves to be.
Currents is out on 17 July through Interscope Records. Listen to Let it Happen below.