REVIEW: Tame Impala - Lonerism

Hopefully you’ve been reading our (almost) year-by-year trip through musical history here at ChunkyGlasses. A project like that compels you to dig through old reviews and articles, and a recurring story is one of bands trying to capture some sort of “late 60s/early 70s sound,” if such a thing exists. Frequently the sound is referred to as modernized psychedelia, and through the years Echo and the Bunnymen, Jellyfish, The Apples in Stereo, and anyone in the Madchester or Paisley Underground scenes were cited (or accused) of borrowing liberally from or even flat-out ripping off the Beatles, Pink Floyd, or King Crimson.

In every case those influences are present but don’t tell the whole story. So it is with Perth, Australia’s Tame Impala – no question you can hear the influences, but they are just that; influences. This is a band with its own flavor and identity, and their sophomore record, Lonerism, is a fantastic example of how those influences, properly channeled, can lead to something completely new.

Tame Impala is less a band than a solo project of multi-talented musician Kevin Parker. “There is this large misconception that we're this band’s band,” Parker said recently. “It's really not a democratic, jam-out band at all." In a separate interview, guitarist Nick Allbrook agreed, calling Tame Impala “someone else’s baby.” Parker takes that baby very seriously, and became somewhat obsessive while making the record, freely admitting he spent lots of time and money to get the sound he wanted. Even working with producer Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev), an expert in layering vast quantities of sounds in perfect arrangements, wasn’t enough to keep Parker from second-guessing himself.  “We mixed the whole thing in two weeks,” said Parker, “and then I listened back and found so many things wrong with it I decided to fly back to New York and mix it again.”

Lonerism, the end result of that meticulous tinkering, is a record of many wonders. From the opening whispers of “Be Above It” to the buzzing, dirty guitars that close out “Sun’s Coming Up,” Lonerism is an epic headtrip of swirling guitars, layered synthesizers, and ambient noise. The album is the musical equivalent of a Joan Miró sculpture – different things will pop out each and every time you experience it.

Like most of the album, the second track, “Enders Toi” (“you sleep,” in French; Parker wrote many of these songs in Paris) is made to heard through headphones. A wonderfully jangly guitar is in one ear, a speedy synth riff in the other, before they crash together in the middle and the song kicks in. The songs borders on chaos, which the welcome calm of the next track, “Apocalypse Dreams” helps to alleviate. It’s a theme that recurs on the record; just as a song appears to be spiraling out of control and Parker seems to be forgoing music for experiment, he reins himself back in with another perfect riff. “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” shows that Parker can write a funk number, as a deep bass riff takes center stage. No sooner does that drop away than “Keep On Lying” fades in, a synth-heavy mostly-instrumental that features barely audible party conversation in the background.

“Music to Walk Home By” may be the standout amongst standouts. Calling back both musically and lyrically to “Solitude is Bliss” from Innerspeaker (that song ends with the line “you’ll never come close to how I feel;” this one begins “But that’s only when I think of you”), the song swerves and changes repeatedly – at one point moog synthesizers are at the forefront, other  times it’s a distorted guitar or Parker’s flighty vocals, before finally coalescing around a heavy 70s guitar riff.

Parker has always been somewhat surprised by his own success, and maintains that his record company planted the first few positive reviews of his debut album. Hopefully the glowing press that Lonerism is receiving will convince him it’s not all an elaborate prank; he really is that good.