Tame Impala Lonerism
The A.V. Club reviews a lot of records every week, but some things still slip through the cracks. Stuff We Missed looks back at notable releases from this year that we didn’t review at their time of release.
It must get pretty lonely in the land Down Under. Globally touring acts tend to skip the continent—especially Perth, one of the world’s most remote major cities. Tame Impala found inspiration in both its country’s isolation and revivalist spirit for its debut, 2010’s Innerspeaker, as Kevin Parker—who writes, sings, and performs each instrumental part—anchored his detachment to a walloping mélange of early-’70s psychedelia, proto-metal, and British pop. Though the band conflated a wider set of influences than its contemporaries with stunning originality and technical ability, it was still easy to trace Innerspeaker’s strands back to their sources. The band’s latest, Lonerism, digs even deeper into those themes and sounds, and pulls out a masterful collage.
Save for the Motor City chug of “Elephant,” Lonerism is far more abstract, fluid, and resplendent than its predecessor. Where the debut broke its sound into episodic chunks, Tame Impala now finds a singular sound in the cross-section of timeless pop and psychedelia. Structurally, Parker swaps out intricate guitar lines for phased-out flutters and intense swaths of warmth, and leans heavily on soaring analog synths, crisp piano plunks, and a percussive march. Apart, these components aren’t particularly inventive, but Parker threads them together in an unpredictable and immaculately produced bundle, topped with his lovely, melodious tenor. But while the no-frills gems of the middle third—“Mind Mischief” through “Keep On Lying”—are instantly inviting, they’re slow to arrive, and hesitant to stay.
That development speaks to the album’s central theme of introversion. Parker’s lyrics are wholly concerned with his place in the world—or, rather, outside of it. “Apocalypse Dreams” finds him in an existential crisis, wondering how a changing world could impact an unwelcomed loner. “Music To Walk Home By” struggles with the literal act of socializing to gain acceptance, and “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?” is fairly self-explanatory. While the lyrics comment directly introversion, the conceptual growth of the album plays out like Parker being dragged to a night out: Opener “Be Above It” is an inner monologue of self-encouragement, followed by “Endors Toi,” a transformation from anxiety to determination. When the songs start to take shape into a discernable form, Parker is quick to shy away from that directness. But by the closing “Sun’s Coming Up,” he seems to welcome the loneliness. (“But if I don’t hear something / pretty soon from now I’ll disconnect completely / See how that works out.”) Lonely as he may be existing outside of time and influence, it’s a natural fit.