Album Review: Tame Impala “Lonerism”

tame impala lonerism

Today, Western Australia’s Tame Impala release their second full-length album, Lonerism. You can have a listen to the online stream of Lonerism right here. Now, I should note I’m a large fan of psyche rock in general, but Lonerism is my favorite album of 2012, thus far. Which is a bold statement considering the onslaught of wonderful releases we’ve seen in the past few months. If Tame Impala’s previous Innerspeak and self-titled EP efforts were your cup of tea, you’ll be quite satisfied. If you’re new to the cosmic, sprawling, psychedelic pop from Kevin Parker & Co, I’d highly recommend taking the time to tune in.

Simply put, Kevin Parker has delicately crafted a sonically beautiful landscape with Lonerism, where the textures, tones, and technical touches glide effortlessly into your ears so smoothly that listeners probably won’t even consider how many knobs, pedals, phasers, delays, and studio tricks Parker wielded to craft these songs. Better yet, following the “second record” improvements, he reaches out with new confidence, bolder melodies and brighter mixing. And it’s in this balance of mechanical wizardry and melodical simpliticty that makes Lonerism so great. As Parker himself noted, Tame Impala aimed for–and succeeded in–delivering “sugar pop that’s been sent to outer space and back”.

Opener “Be Above It” is an incredible intro track, slowly building upon itself and establishing the album-wide theme of patient swells leading into memorable hooks and drops. The minimal sound blasts mixed with timely restraint that Parker presents here are reminiscent of “Dance Yrself Clean” and “In The Flowers”, the openers to LCD Soundsystem’s This Is Happening and Animal Collective’s Merryweather Post Pavilion, respectively. Additionally, the outright positivity of the song lead me to believe we could drop global unhappiness by about 14% if “Be Above It” was the default alarm clock song on new iPhones.

Apocalypse Dreams“, the first Lonerism track to hit the internet, is a hell of a single. The bouncing bump of bass and the driving percussive forces fire the track up right out of the gate. And Parker’s melodies complement this gate burst very well. Moreover, the track’s break-neck stops diving into psychedelic explosions of (inter)stellar guitar tones (such as the cosmic soup you’re thrust into at 3:00) allow “Apocalypse Dreams” to present the first solid, six minute single I can remember in a long time.

“Mind Mischief” reintroduces that hazy, late sixties, Cream and Nazz style guitar Tame Impala has come to embrace. It instantly transports you to the bright, sand-filled beaches of Perth. And again, Parker’s melodies are so damn catchy. The first full two minutes are pleasant enough, but when Parker pulls you into the sun-soaked, simple chorus of “She remembers….my name” it’ll be playin’ in your head for days. This way he holds off, making you wait for two minutes in this case, allows Tame Impala to indulge in drawn out psyche jams with many layers playing upon themselves through small tweaks that develop through each track.

“Music to Walk Home By” shares a similar psyche intro that you’d find on an MGMT track, while later demonstrating Tame Impala can hang with said fellow psyche pop masters. Next, “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?” is one of my favorite tracks of the year. Parker shows how effective melodic simplicity can be here. You don’t have to write an opus. The driving pop of the snare as the chorus hits reminds me of the iconic hit leading into Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”. This is triply true when the stripped down bridge re-enters the chorus. The layering of the chorus vocals (say, at 1:37) feels so good.

Following track “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” also features a door-opening snare drum before Parker’s vocals pour on in. This warm, psychedelic blooming of positivity gives me the impression that Tame Impala is more than happy to channel the good-time-vibes of their home-region of Western Austrailia. “Keep on Lying” shows how a band can be capable of essentially playing the same groove for six minutes while making it work and be super catchy. Slight variations of said groove twist through the song and keep it fresh. And there’s a classic, Sgt Peppers era psychedelic breakdown towards the end that will launch you right into your own trip. Next up, “Elephant” delivers another excellent single featuring that deep, heavy, churning, sluggish late 60’s guitar.

Lonerism’s final three tracks fittingly calm down the outer space ride guided by the album’s earlier tracks. “Sun Coming Up (Lambington)” is aptly named, as it stands far away from the rest of the album’s tracks settling into the closer spot. It ties the album together, as you feel Parker is soundtracking the end of a heroic night or journey capped off by watching– big stretch her– the sun coming up. Its sparse piano arrangement adds a nice touch of variety for the thick, layered, mind-warping textures that precede it.

Overall, Tame Impala has delivered an insatiably catchy psyche pop record that scores high on the replay value. Now, some will most certainly say that Parker is pulling tools from a well worn, tired and aged locker that is the late 60’s era psychedelic rock movement. To me, that’s a bit asinine. No one detests the beauty of the Fleet Foxes harmonies even though they directly stem from sixties era folk. The White Stripes, Black Keys and 00’s garage rock obviously stemmed from an earlier tradition, but does that make them any less bad ass? No. The current R&B resurgence is heavily indebted to years gone by. And that’s fine. Musical recycling, reinvention and rediscovery is a beautiful thing. Moreover, Tame Impala don’t simply recreate that aforementioned sound. They deliver their own take.

On a meta note, it feels like Lonerism is the type of album–and perhaps the direction of music–that we could use more of. Certainly this is a generalization, so take it as that, but much of the tuneage appearing on this site and in the *indie* zeitgeist in recent memory plays to self-indulgence of the mopier brand. For example, one of the leading articles on Pitchfork today was an interview with How To Dress Well that chronicles sadness, depression, and “miserablism”. By no means do I mean disrespect to anyone in that mental territory. But when that disposition appears all-too-frequently in indie, it’s downright refreshing to see that sunny, fun, upbeat, simple-on-the-surface music can be the best. And note that with album titles like Innerspeak and Lonerism and songs titles like “Solitude Is Bliss” and “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”,  Tame Impala isn’t shying away from headier subject matter nor free from melancholy melodies altogether. They’re just treating it more playfully and positively.  In addition to delivering the year’s best album thus far, Tame Impala suggests the “indie” guy at the party doesn’t have to be the oh so sad & serious one.