Tame Impala Offer an Extravagant Exploration of Time on ‘The Slow Rush’
Australian psychedelic rock virtuoso Kevin Parker is a one-man band not quite like any other. His songs under the moniker Tame Impala are colorful cuts of acid synth fireworks, funk, and dance music that traverses decades, making worlds warp and collide. While Parker has become a mainstay on the festival circuit in recent years, nearly guaranteed to be a main stage act at the biggest music events, half a decade has passed since his last album, “Currents,” which skyrocketed him to a new level of stardom. The flurry of these five years spent in a haze of touring and recording gave rise to a fascination with time, the perplexing problems it presents, and the optimal ways of dealing with them. On his latest album, “The Slow Rush,” Parker addresses these issues, slightly easing back on sonic extremes, but showing no signs of abating when it comes to painstaking detail and visionary grandeur.
Opener “One More Year” begins with a staccato tone and a beat slowly morphs through and takes root. Phasers and bits of dub delay instantly register the psychedelia that the band is famous for. Kevin Parker croons away about the oddity of this point in his career, realizing after the passage of exactly a year that he had been perpetually playing music, as if there were a stop in time. “Instant Destiny” is a kaleidoscopic cut, full of beaming brass bursts, and woozy synth arpeggios, with Parker putting his signature giddy vocalizations to the thought of seizing the moment with abandon, and reveling in reckless behavior.
There’s a bit of ‘70s soul throwback feel to “Borderline, although reimagined in the circusy neon that has always characterized Tame Impala. A particularly giddy song, it finds Parker bleating gleefully about being at a borderline, and taking the freedom of throwing caution to the wind, and leaping forward. “Posthumous Forgiveness,” a confessional, personal song directed at Parker’s late father, trudges along with bluesy guitar licks and all types of delightfully chaotic clutter, building to an epic synth riff midway, gently fizzing out, then switching to a a more subdued outro that gets especially poignant, with Parker singing of how he wishes he could share his new songs with his father, and tell him of such experiences as going to Abbey Road and speaking with Mick Jagger on the phone.
“Breathe Deeper,” a song about a rare moment of vulnerability, is a particularly funky track, with an insistent backbeat and driving bass evoking the likes of roller discos. Lyrics like “Breathe a little deeper… And let those colors run” could hardly be better expressed in the sound that accompanies them, and the song flips, unravels, and mutates into a raging, bassy synth outro of peak intensity. “Tomorrow’s Dust” strips things down, building from a ramshackle rumble, full of percussive clatter, to another glittery haze with Sergeant Peppers horn blasts and all the works. By the time the chorus hits, the band has settled into such a deep groove that it hits especially hard. Parker sings of how “in the air of today is tomorrow’s dust,” offering such aphorisms as “no use biding your time if the bell is tolled.”
If “One More Year” marveled at the mysterious nature of the band’s point in time, “Strictly Speaking” addresses it with an unflinching optimism, as Parker maintains, “Strictly speaking, I’m still on track” with a consolatory melody and sluggish tone that suits the sentiment. “Lost in Yesterday” continues the thematic thread about struggling to make sense of time, in this case taking up the idea of addiction to nostalgia. Another decidedly funky cut, with probably the catchiest chorus on the album, it’s an infectious tune. “Is It True” is about living in the moment, rather than worrying about the certainty that the future holds, when it comes to young love. Shapeshifting razor synth lines and a syncopated, handclap-heavy rhythm make for yet another characteristically festive number.
Recurrent themes resurface on “It Might Be Time,” its title alluding to negative thoughts that creep up and threaten all one’s positive momentum. Parker’s general response was made clear on “Strictly Speaking,” but he here muses, “Nothing lasts forever,” seconding the suggestion of “Is It True” along with the cool complacency of “Breathe Deeper,” conveyed via a colorful frenzy of crashing drums and howling high pitches. Next comes the brief, mostly instrumental “Glimmer.” With a title that could hardly better fit the band’s aesthetic, it sonically encapsulates everything about Tame Impala. Finally, on “One More Hour,” Parker sings of when the time has come, and the end near, with eerie repetition creating a tense backdrop that erupts into crashing drums and distorted guitars, with the trademark, spacey synths hovering over. Consistent with the optimism expressed elsewhere, Parker insists he’ll be fine even in this time of reckoning, “as long as I can, long as I can / Be the man I am.”
“The Slow Rush” is an album well worth the wait, with each track overflowing with ideas that reveal a rare, panoramic knowledge of music, and rewards repeated listens. Parker mixes and matches sounds from different styles and eras in a hazy hodgepodge full of vivid colors, flashy funk, and trippy turns. The fixation on time that runs through the new songs makes for an unanticipatedly pensive album, one that tackles hefty philosophical issues, and answers them with an optimism that could hardly find a more effective conduit than the festive, neon, sonic spectacles of Tame Impala.
“The Slow Rush” is available Feb. 14 on Apple Music.