Throughout the ten years and four records of Kevin Parker’s career as Tame Impala, the sound of his albums has always belied their content. Whether on debut, Innerspeaker and sophomore effort Lonerism – where fidgety, lo-fi percussion and sun-drenched guitar hooks masked the frustrations of relationships and the struggle between yearning for, and wanting to escape from, solitude – or on Currents, where anxieties came wrapped up in packages which now included elements of dance, electro and R&B, the typical emotional setting for listening to a Tame Impala album, one feels, has always been a far cry from that in which they were written.
That fact isn’t lost on Parker, who, in the lead-up to releasing latest album The Slow Rush, made no secret of the strangeness he sees in his songs about loneliness and alienation being sung at festivals across the world by some of the biggest crowds in music. On The Slow Rush, that dichotomy is still present: for a start, the album’s artwork provides succinct insight on the album’s perspective with its depiction of the trappings of an everyday human life – the luxurious, sedate interior of a house – completely full to the brim with desert sand. It’s an obvious signifyer of the central concern Parker is grappling with at this stage in his life and career: the sands of time.
That much is obvious from the album’s opener, too. ‘One More Year’ and its eponimous, robotic lament gets undercut by the kind of funk-driven beat that has appeared more and more prominently in Tame Impala albums in recent years, and sees Parker reflect on the routines and cyclical concerns that seem to invade one’s life as it progresses – and how to escape them, with “one more year / not caring if we do the same thing every week”. But if previous Tame Impala records seemed preoccupied with these anxieties and concerns, this time around Parker is liberated somewhat. The next track sees him proclaim he’s about to “do something crazy”, like “buy a home in Miami”. It adds up to a sense of Parker looking at his life not from an internal perspective of abject introversion, but as if from on top of the hill he’s been walking up for the last few years: he’s wondering what’s next in life, rather than what kind of life he should be leading or what troubles it might throw at him.
That’s not to say the album is completely carefree. While the keys on ‘Borderline’ have an echo of Stevie Wonder about them, and while the bassline on ‘Is It True’ positively drips with ’60s funk, Parker also has time to be contemplative throughout. ‘Posthumous Forgiveness’, in particular, plays host to a relatively subdued, wistful, minor chord progression, while Parker laments about the things he hasn’t been able to share with his father: “the time that I had / Mick Jagger on the phone / thought of you when he spoke”.
Fans of the stoner-rock/psychedelia of earlier albums might be a bit put out to find that Parker has continued the trend towards R&B, electronica and dance here; it’s definitely his most androginous album, with all of those influences and more being cherry-picked and dropped throughout, so that, as Parker acknowledges, ‘people will argue about what it sounds like, or when it sounds like it’s from’. But all those disperate influences are so seamlessly incorporated – with layered, lush, detailed production – that it somehow still sounds like his most sonically cohesive record, which is some achievement.
We’re now in the fifth year since Currents, and in that time Kevin Parker has developed and grown, both personally and musically. If his previous albums were predominantly expressions of anxieties and concern, then The Slow Rush lets us know that those concerns aren’t quite as all-encompassing anymore. What’s more: it’s a chance for Parker – and us – to look into the future at what’s coming up. Tentatively, at least.
The Slow Rush is available to stream and buy now. For info about tour dates and more, see Tame Imapala’s website.