Culture Connoisseur: Tame Impala’s “Currents”

 

What great album artwork, am I right?

What great album artwork, am I right?

The beginning of my interest in music began in late middle school and early high school, a time I spent listening to a lot of 1960s rock. I don’t really remember what prompted the exploration and why I chose to start there, but I was obsessed with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” read multiple Jim Morrison biographies, and borrowed all of the CDs I could from both my dad’s stellar collection and the public library. My ninth-grade research paper for honors English was on the impact of the counterculture. In addition to being fascinated by the social and cultural upheaval happening in the 1960s and wanting to learn more about the history, I gravitated towards the decade’s music more so than anything playing on the radio between 2006-08, mostly because I liked how experimental it was — in both its sound and its lyrical content.

So when I listened to Tame Impala’s “Currents,” which dropped Friday, I wasn’t surprised that I immediately liked it. Fronted by Kevin Parker, Tame Impala is a rock band based in Australia. You’d probably recognize at least one of their songs — “Elephant” was featured in several commercials — and the band frequently performs at festivals. Tame Impala’s sound in general is very pyschedelic, and would fit right in with the discography of the 1960s.

“Currents” especially has been met with great critical acclaim, and I like “Currents” so much that I think I’ve listened through it at least 15 times. Not only is it my favorite album of the summer, but I think it’s one of the best albums of 2015 and probably one of the best albums of all time. Here are two reasons why.

The intersection of genres is refreshing. 

Parker, who is very cognizant of the psychedelic label critics put on the band’s first two albums, wanted to make a record that a DJ would play in a club. I can imagine a Las Vegas DJ spinning a song from the album, as “Currents” is definitely an album to dance to. “Let it Happen,” the first track, even nods a little bit to EDM with a bass drop and for sure bows to an album like Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories,” an album that re-modernized disco. The only things that really solidify “Currents” as a Tame Impala album is Parker’s voice and the known penchant for lo-fi experimentation, which I don’t mind.

One of the first things I noticed in listening to the album is a lack of guitar, which Tame Impala heavily relied upon in earlier work. Just that alone is progressive. Plus, two songs on the album — “Nangs” and “Gossip” — are nearly or entirely instrumental and function as breaks between the narrative, which I’ll get to in a second. The introduction of thicker synth makes it pretty groovy, and some of the songs have some pretty sick beats: in particular, “The Moment,” “The Less I Know The Better” and “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.” So many artists pigeonhole themselves into one genre or sound because that’s what has made them popular, but Tame Impala threw the notion out the window.

The lyrical content is incredible and tells a cohesive story. 

Backing up the actual music of “Currents” is a unparalleled lyrical prowess. Tame Impala’s music very often deals with isolation and the limits of interpersonal relationships, and “Currents” isn’t much of a departure. The 13 tracks on “Currents” particularly deal with a narrator who both implicitly and explicitly questions authenticity, control and change. “The Moment,” replying on the repetition of “it’s getting closer,” explores a now-or-never mentality that fades out without any real closure. Of of the most profound lyrics on the album is in the fourth track “Yes I’m Changing.” “They say people never change, but that’s bullshit / they do” challenges the idea that mindset is permanent and that widely-held social views aren’t always the truth. The album ends with “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” a track that suggests that the narrator’s transformation isn’t all sunshine and roses through changes in voice. For example, “Feel like a brand new person” is followed by a lower and delayed “But you make the same old mistakes,” a style followed throughout the song in spots like “I know that you think it’s fake / Maybe fake’s what I like.” The entire album centers on the uncertainty and skepticism of whether or not people really change and care about how “real” their world really is, which you don’t get much of in today’s popular music.

At the middle of the album, the narrator is also working through both a relationship breakup that reverberates at several points. “Eventually” is about the deterioration of a relationship, which leads into “Gossip,” an instrumental piece that translates the blurriness and emotional fallout of a breakup. But that precedes “The Less I Know The Better,” a song about jealousy and the notion of true love, which is then followed by “Past Life,” a track about reliving memories and experiences. “Disciples” also has the narrator realizing that his former lover has become a different person since the breakup, and that he wants “to be like we used to” and go back to that familiarity. All five of these songs are particularly interesting when you compound them with the role of social media as essentially a personal history book, and how we are constantly forced to remember events and relationships from the past whether we want to or not. We have to relive the relationships and the feelings over and over again because there’s no distance between the past and the present.

For me, “Currents” in many ways echoes the reasons why I loved psychedelic and progressive rock so much. The deep and thoughtful exploration of really heavy themes coupled with interesting and layered sounds makes it a masterpiece, and I’ll be very interested to see if it holds up well and whether or not future listeners will be able to gleam anything about the cultural upheaval of the 2010s. You can buy “Currents” on iTunes or Amazon, or you can listen here.

Listened to “Currents” and want to talk about it? Let’s discuss it in the comments.

 

 

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