Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Lonerism's warped synths provide clear direction for Tame Impala

Aussie psychedelic rockers Tame Impala have grown by leaps and bounds since their last record release two years ago. Their debut, Innerspeaker, was a promising piece of psychedelic inspired rock, but Lonerism goes much farther in all possible directions. It's an album defined as much by the bombastic and highly stylized keyboard riffing as it is the sky high tenor and profound insight of frontman Kevin Parker. It's deeply rooted in 60s and 70s rock traditions, yet sounds and speaks like no other record.

It sprawls forth like a warm summer day, rarely revealing a sense of urgency but rather taking its time as each song slowly develops within a hazy, lazy bath. As an opener, "Be Above It" is rather underwhelming and comes nowhere close to showing off Parker's potential, but the two tracks immediately following it consist of tightly structured pop nuggets that begin to give a much clearer picture of what Lonerism is about.

In the wake of Innerspeaker, the band became besieged by a deluge of Beatle comparisons. The most obvious similarity lies in the stunning similarity Parker's voice bears with John Lennon. There are also a number of instrumental flourishes that pay homage to that great band. But don't make the mistake of trying to write them off as Beatle impostors. For one, the Fab Four never had electronics like this.

"Enders Toi" immediately sets the tone for the album. Its spacey, warped and tripped out synthesizer patterns figure heavily into the framework of the album. It is catchy, taut, and tightly edited, with a great vocal performance and a vibrant bassline that is given plenty of room to breathe. The following track, "Apocalypse Dreams," is even spacier and more magnetizing . These tracks deliver the same kind of profound shock you got the first time you heard the Beatles "Free as a Bird" and hearing Lennon's voice unearthed for the first time since his death in 1980.

However, Parker quickly espouses the notion that he's trying to craft an album full of sing alongs. Many of the pieces on Lonerism are structured around the texture and fabric of the song as opposed to a distinct sense of melody.

"Mind Mischief" starts with a hazy, lazy guitar riff with a major George Harrison vibe, before moving into a series of drum fills that sound like they could have been played only by Ringo. "Music to Walk Home By" is another track bolstered by in your face synths; the keyboards and drumming are the standout elements on the track.

Lead single "Elephant" is the album's tastiest and crunchiest rock song, with a warped middle section and some clever vocal inflections implemented in the final verse, while "Nothing That Has Happened So Far has Been Anything We Could Control" conjures up early morning technicolor fantasies from the 1970s. Its intro and general vibe sounds like something Black Moth Super Rainbow might do.

Parker is also quickly establishing himself as one of today's strongest writers, and "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" is one of his greatest statements. It captures remarkably well the spirit of frustration that comes from expending great energy to move forward while seeing very little fruit of your labor. It benefits from a soul inspired chorus that reaches for the skies, counterbalanced by more mellow verses that bring it back down to earth. Some very loud Ringo like drumming in the last chorus is a nice touch.

In addition, there are many little fantastic little lyrical nuggets sprinkled all throughout the album. On "Apocalypse Dreams" he pierces us by asking, "Are you too terrified to try your best/ just to end up with an educated guess?" Later, on "Everything that has Happened...," he notes "Every man is happy until happiness is suddenly a goal."

"Keep on Lying" is another song with a great concept. It is very catchy for the first half, talking about a relationship with a girl where he isn't in love but struggles to find the nerve to tell her. The second half is all instrumental and spacey and keyboard heavy.

Some numbers miss the mark unfortunately  The album's weakest point comes on "Why Won't They Talk To Me?" The entire tune is middling and hazy, with a repetitive main refrain that doesn't really go anywhere and just floats around.

Many of the songs unfold at a lazy pace, though sometimes this is more of a hindrance than anything else. Many songs tend to float around in space and drag on at times, and it doesn't always feel like the music is tightly edited or even knows where it's going all the time. Parker's vocal performance is fine, although on some songs he doesn't show off much range. A lack of melody on other pieces causes the album to lack a sense of urgency it could sorely use.

Beach House guitarist Alex Scally has long complained about people listening to his band  for strictly for their sound in general, when he is trying to put focus on the individual songs. But Parker has seemingly done the opposite here. Aside from a few prime cuts, Lonerism seems geared more toward emitting a particular type of sound as opposed to focusing on structuring and crafting the individual songs themselves. This results in an album that is inconsistent, has a tendency to drift around too aimlessly, and loses its sense of direction even on its stronger pieces.

What Parker has accomplished on Lonerism can't be understated; Tame Impala's sounds are clearly rooted in the 60s and 70s, yet they sound specifically like no band from that period. Yet the opportunities he missed must also be observed; a little fine crafting and tuning here could have helped this album be truly exceptional rather than one that is just above average.

Score: 86/100

No comments: