by Caden Marchese
It's here, it's been long awaited, it's the new Tame Impala record, and it's called Currents. For those not already aware, Tame Impala is the recording project and child of Perth, Australia-based Kevin Parker, who records and plays nearly all of the instruments (not live, of course). Usually catching the label "psych-rock" since the 2010 release of debut record Innerspeaker and the hugely successful Lonerism in 2012, Tame Impala have enjoyed major success over the last three years, landing tunes in tequila and phone commercials and also gaining some attention from the commercial radio circuit. Currents is a year late to some people and chances are you've probably heard most of the album seeing as Kevin released almost half of it in the form of singles in the past six months, but that's not all bad, and there are still quality tracks on this record. Although it's a change, the album remains cohesive, different, and still 'Tame Impala' throughout the listen.
One of the first things you'll notice is that Kevin Parker has almost completely left his guitar in its case for the recording of this record, favoring instead a call to the more synthetic sounds of 80s synthpop and new-wave while also making a few nods to modern electronic artists (Flume, maybe?) The nostalgia is still there, but it's showing respect for a different decade, and this may end up troubling to long time Tame Impala fans and electric guitar purists. That being said, the synth bits are mostly well done, and there are still plenty of real drums and real basses to go around. Production is overall very polished, glassy, and bright. They don't exactly sound like a phased out psychedelic basement tape anymore, but they've carried over some of their best production trademarks that keep their sound distinct.
In terms of songwriting, Kevin Parker has stripped things down. There are less filler tracks on Currents and more straightforward melodies that are relatively simple in structure. Tracks like "Let it Happen" and "'Cause I'm a Man" draw on pop sensibilities while cuts like "Past Life" use vocal processing and ballad-like beats to paint nostalgic synth-laden tunes that sound like a futuristic 80s dream. You'll likely find tracks on Currents that are perfectly suited for a high school prom slow-dance, as well as short rock burners such as "Disciples". One of the weakest points of the record is the lyrics, and while it's difficult to notice on the first listen, there are reverbed falsettos that wail on lyrics bordering on cringeworthy. The vocals on Currents are arguably some of Kevin Parker's worst yet, and the more he pushes them to the forefront the more they end up serving more to harm the overall sound rather than help it. That being said, there are some catchy vocal melodies that occur all over the record, they are just more difficult to find than the bad ones.
Overall, Currents might be difficult to many of Tame Impala's I-was-born-in-the-wrong-generation-type fans. The shift towards synthesizers and away from guitars may be jarring and troubling for some of Tame Impala's demographic, and even people with high respects for the synth age may have a hard time swallowing some of the melodies and electronic production. However, there are still enough quality songs and riffs that make Currents worth the listen. It will be interesting to see how Kevin Parker will progress from this point onward, as Currents makes us wonder if he'll continue towards the pop side of things or will later return to the original aesthetic that made the band famous.