I skipped writing a review on Innerspeaker, the first album by Australian psychedelic-rock band Tame Impala, because of a variety of reasons; it seemed like everyone already knew about it and I also did wonder if it was a one-off. Innerspeaker was an impeccably well written group of songs with such a delicious coating of 60s sheen that I doubted the band could replicate the same thing twice.
And with Lonerism they did not replicate it–they took the same sound and stepped a new direction, which is exactly what you want to see for the staying-power of an artist. Somewhere on the web I saw a critique of Innerspeaker that said “phasers were made for this album”. Troof! One thing Tame Impala fully excels at, is using reverb, delay, and them whirling, creamy phasers, to archetypal trippy effect. That heavy, dreamy phasing is back and sounding as good as ever here.
It should be mentioned right out of the gate that the mastermind behind the operation, multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker, has seriously got to be a lost love-child of Paul McCartney. It would be an understatement to say his voice is eerily similar to a young Paul. It is a closer match than ‘uncanny’. Which is an integral part of the draw here–a magnificent centerpiece to the band’s palette, summarized on amazon as using “the aid of gear and production techniques that sounded like they hadn’t been dusted off since 1968”. Indeed, some of the cuts could probably fool a blind-listener into thinking some forgotten late-60s vintage gem of an LP was spinning on the turntable.
My favorite track on the album still has to be the aforementioned “Apocalypse Dreams” with a mesmerizing minimalistic breakdown at its center, lyrics that oscillate between hopeful or sarcastic, and giant, piano-pounding chords anchoring a fuzzed-out version of the lyric melody on guitar, forming a truly epic ending that seems to float off into the sky as the slow fade brings you out easy. They should have ended the album with this one. This is the only cut on the album which was jointly composed by Parker and bandmate Jay Watson; whatever flavor that’s being produced by the combination of these two minds, I hope to hear more of that in the future.
Possibly a close second for favorite track on this outing was “Mind Mischief” which makes prominent use of synths that sound more like something Neon Indian would use; a touch of 1980s Tears For Fears, in some sparkly, slow motion nostalgic way. Maybe Neon Indian would use that same synth, but they wouldn’t fully submerge it in the calling-card phaser/flanger treatment it gets here. The moment at 2:48 where the new chord progression starts is a particularly wonderful spot for me. There is a good deal of phasing leading up to that moment but right then it somehow gets even thicker and bigger. It’s a great example of ‘just when you thought they couldn’t take it to another level, they go and take it to the next level.’ I would really love to know what kind of gear they are using to achieve that rich, warm effect they are getting. Just Magical.
As an aside, isn’t the back cover art awesome? I included it here at full-res, so you can scan around the image and check out this mountain of toys he’s working. Sweet picture…
That same Neon-Indian-esque vibe is also present in spades on “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?” and it works well. The infusion of this synth-heavier, vaguely 80s influence is what I was alluding to at the start when I mentioned a new direction for the style. I dig it. There were maybe hints of this on their first album, but Lonerism brings it to the fore. Another overarching theme here is the great usage of pauses in the music, where there is a short interval during which all instruments stop playing, only to resume in unison a second later. That’s a classic ‘cheap trick’ in songwriting that always works.
A major feather in the cap of Innerspeaker was the fact that it was 100%. No filler songs, no fluff, no annoying tracks you will skip every time they come up. They didn’t quite achieve the same level here, although the mark wasn’t missed by far. “Sun’s Coming Up” is sort of an amateurish-sounding screw off that offers a view of what sounds like Kevin messing around in the lab/practice room. Which is maybe interesting on that level, but it sticks out like an awkward sore thumb when placed next to all the finished-sounding polished compositions preceding it. The fact that this whimpering should-have-been-a-B-Side closes the album is regrettable–this is not the conclusion it deserves. “She Just Won’t Believe Me” is also something of an odd interlude that’s not really a song. And the constant plodding quarter note chords on every single beat of “Keep On Lying” can definitely get old. I like to picture ‘keyboard cat’ playing that background part. Hahahaha
But we’re delving into nickpickery now. Viewed from afar, Lonerism is a glorious, billowing flag planted atop a sand dune on a sunny afternoon at the beach. That is to say it’s magnificent. I have been looking forward to the release of Tame Impala’s second album ever since I heard the unimpeachable Innerspeaker, and it’s with a combination of relief, intrigue, and delight that I say they’ve got a worthy sequel here. As I’ve grown older, the amount of new rock music as a percentage of my music collecting has frankly plummeted Blame it on a perpetually diversifying taste for different genres and styles, blame it on oversaturation as a youngster with cookie-cutter bands that all used the same radio-friendly hard-rock formula, blame it on the sheer number of bands which use bass/drums/guitar/vocals, maybe a keyboard… and never anything else. Maybe I’ve gotten bored with it, maybe I need more variety, or maybe for me to enjoy rock like I once did, it has to have some kind of compelling ‘twist’ beyond the plain-vanilla form.
Tame Impala has that compelling twist, in the form of a young Paul McCartney doppelganger, spot-on vintage mastering, unparalleled tastefulness with rich phasers, and solid songwriting to showcase their novel, psychedelic sound that leans heavily on late 60s rock influences; the progenitor of the whole genre to begin with. These guys have gone back to the source and tapped into something equivalently timeless as it is overlooked in the sprawling “rock” section of today’s music stores. This band is something special, and I hope they produce many more excellent offerings along the path set forth by these superb first two.