Review: Tame Impala ‘Currents’
Currents, the third studio album by rock group Tame Impala, was one of the few albums from 2015 that really struck a chord with me. Being a casual listener of the Australian act’s two prior albums (Innerspeaker and Lonerism), I was used to leading member Kevin Parker’s psychedelic spin on the rock and alternative genres. At the same time, however, I was enthralled with other more accessible and arguably more re-playable genres such as experimental hip-hop, and electro-R&B as well as pop. When Currents dropped into the public eye I was pleasantly surprised to find it was a beautiful mix of the best components of my favorite genres.
Bookended by two funked out, spacey romps that stretch beyond the six minute marker, Currents is a beautiful psychedelic-pop album with heavy electronic, R&B, alternative and even disco influences. I would almost go as far as calling it a modern day masterpiece. A love at first listen. It’s a textural adventure that stretches from cough syrup induced hallucinations to plain old sobbing by the window when you’re alone agony. In between, are bit sized and family style portions cobbled into just the right order to keep the listener asking for more. It primarily features a drum kit, 20 century style synth keyboards and plucks from a tattered and worn guitar. Most of its products came to fruition during the evening following heavy drinking and smoking to allow for better flow, which is obviously a strong point of the album.
Introducing the album is the eight minute space out and the project’s lead off single “Let It Happen”. Compiled of fragments recorded and mixed in different parts of the world, the track details how to free oneself from worrying about the things that can’t be controlled in life. Both the track’s lyrics about living without care and its unique creation process further help explain and introduce the story behind Currents, which is described in the simplest of terms as “self transition” and how to deal with it. Musically speaking, “Let It Happen” hits heavy on the synths, vocal manipulation and employs a unique skipping technique similar to the sound heard on a scratched compact disc. This choppy, looped and screwed backing track is both dreary and bright as well as frightening and enjoyable to listen to. Topping out at eight minutes, “Let It Happen” is one of the most magical and captivating musical moments in recent memory; to date it’s one of the few songs with a six minute or higher run time I can stand to finish all the way through.
Follow up offering “Nangs” and subsequent interludes “Gossip” and “Disciples”, the only three tracks to run under the two minute marker on the entire project, are odes to being both high on life and drugs, both distracting and guiding the listener through the rest of the album and the stages of life itself. “Nangs” in particular is a wobbly effort, containing a single looped line and a simmering, high pressure feeling throughout. Named after an Australian term for ‘container holding nitrous oxide’, “Nangs” emulates the idea of being high on the gas and the depletion of a nang itself is mirrored in the stringy, synth based production. “Gossip”, the interlude and direct precursor to one of the album’s best and most emotionally challenging tracks (“The Less I Know the Better”) contains no guitars (the first of the album) and uses synths to build upon the idea that the whispering ghosts of people around us know more about our secrets than we do. Although tracks like the instrumental “Gossip” could be seen as a waste of space by a first time listener, subsequent listens reveal it to be a vital part of the story of moving carelessly through life without paying attention to your toughest critics. To me, “Gossip” is a huge part of the album and I, at this point, couldn’t imagine listening to a version of Currents without it.
“The Moment”, which follows “Nangs” on the track list is a propeller back into the thin margin of positive space that can be found in everyday life. From my personal point of view, “The Moment” speaks of an impending change and the importance of one’s choices and how those choices ultimately relate (or don’t) to one’s own ‘survival’. Although this isn’t my favorite track on Currents, “The Moment” is nonetheless the song with the most important and relatable message. This past year was my toughest academically. As a result, I was cornered into making decisions that I ultimately (at the time) was not comfortable with. Looking back, Kevin Parker’s message in “The Moment” is one of the most important ones anybody can ever learn. Sometimes decisions are worth tossing and turning for and sometimes they simply aren’t. But regardless, the world will continue to spin whether or not you made the correct move. You’ve got to just go with what you know and move on.
The next offering, “Yes I’m Changing”, is an even more intoxicating track than the oxide-high ode “Nangs”. Unintentionally written as a stream of conscious or poem piece, the creation of the track and its exact origins are completely forgotten and detail the forays of Parker in and out of a once toxic relationship with both a companion and life itself. It features heavy synth work and strong, simply looped drum beats.
At the emotional and literal center and core of the album are the tracks “Eventually” and one of my personal favorites “The Less I Know The Better”. Both were ultimately released as singles to help promote the climax of the story being told on Currents. Both deal with difficult realizations found in an average person’s life and how moving on from those experiences can be achieved. The former, a song centered on a failed relationship is about to end, is the absolute most important song found on the album, lyrically speaking. It’s also one of the most relatable and mirrors the effects of pumping your system with comfort (whether it be drugs or food or even something else one uses to ease pain) just to help guide your body and mind through the pain of losing someone you thought was perfect for you.
Meanwhile, “The Less I Know The Better” is a heartbreaking disco adventure about realizing the new person you’re after has been falsely leading you on for longer than you wish to know. Heavy on opening guitar plucks and twinkling synths, this track is the musical equivalent of staring out the window and bawling your eyes out. Of all the tracks, it’s obviously the most disco-oriented offering and arguably doesn’t belong production wise, sticking out like a beautiful eyesore (wait what?).
Of the album’s other offerings, “Cause I’m a Man” and album closer “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” further feature important lessons about privilege. “Cause I’m a Man” attacks the sexist reality of society and brilliantly comments on how privilege can be used to do good but can just as easily be wasted. Album closer “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” details how a person’s advantages in life can help them escape their past but not completely alter their paths for the future which are likely to divert back to the past, all while backed by moody synths, dark R&B influences and haunting electro lyrical projection (the darker twin to “Past Life”, the track following “The Less I Know the Better”).
Currents has it all. There’s just enough emotion, story and clever production to keep it afloat. Taking influences from many different aspects of life and the eras of music, this album is both strong in lyrical structure as well as production layout.
Best tracks: “The Less I Know the Better”, “Let It Happen”, “Nangs” and “New Person, Same Old Mistakes”.