Album Review: “Currents” by Tame Impala

Currents
Released: July 17th, 2015
Reviewed by Thomas Johnstone
Rating: 4/5

“I heard about a whirlwind that’s coming ’round / It’s gonna carry off all that isn’t bound,” Kevin Parker announces on “Let It Happen,” opening track of Australian act Tame Impala‘s new record Currents. The lyric forecasts the album’s theme of personal change, from its distant rumblings to its disaffecting aftermath, and given the apocalyptic imagery, we’d hardly expect the changes to be slight.

Fittingly Currents delivers by departing from the act’s previous work in big, surprising ways, given the expectations we might have following two acclaimed albums which comfortably wear the label “psychedelic rock.” Despite possessing a keen sense of melody and lyrical maturity, Kevin Parker—the sole recording and producing musician of Tame Impala (he mixes this time around, as well)—has always seemed less of a songwriter than a clever studio craftsman. A typical track obscured his Lennon-like vocals behind snaking bass lines and 70’s guitar riffs, forming mantra-like jams awash in bombastic drums and reverb. The closing track of 2012’s Lonerism, “Sun’s Coming Up,” seemed to lay the Tame Impala formula bare. A sad carnival waltz for voice and piano, shockingly bare and traditional given everything it follows, eventually turns to full-blown noise collage à la “Revolution 9.” With this self-deconstruction Parker seemed to be both copping to his Beatles influence in the most blatant way, and acknowledging his art’s competing elements: the traditional song, and the abstract, chaotic sound world of an expanded mind.

With Currents, the song finally gets its day in the sun. This is largely an album of pop songs, and Tame Impala’s familiar elliptical jams are kept to a minimum. The main exception is “Let It Happen,” which tries several styles on for size over the course of its nearly eight minute fantasia: dance pop with vocoder, gnarly guitar riffs and even a diversion into synth-orchestra territory that recalls Mercury Rev. It’s like Parker preempted the DJs by remixing the track himself.

As the album progresses it’s clear such meandering is the exception rather than the rule, perhaps by design, as this opening track eases the transition to more traditional territory. Traditional, at least, in the abundance of well-structured songs like “The Moment.” It’s a testament to Parker’s songwriting chops (a few clunky rhymes aside, it feels like he’s been doing this all along) that a listener is more likely to fixate on the newly electronic texture. Keyboards dominate, with guitars mostly relegated to short, funky riffs as on “The Less I Know the Better,” a smirking love song which could easily fit on Daft Punk‘s Random Access Memories. Drums are more danceable and reigned-in (you won’t even hear a crash cymbal until track 5) and vocals no longer feel like an afterthought; Parker’s sweet tenor sits front and center, his double-tracked Lennon pretensions of the past nowhere in sight. Not that he’s entirely abandoned psychedelia, evidenced by a dramatic vocal delay in “Reality In Motion” or the blurry pads of studio scrap “Nangs,” but the effects enhance as much as they obscure. Parker balances the rhythms and textures of his electronic soundscape with surprising ease, resembling Caribou much more than the Beatles. In fact, he slips so comfortably into his new skin it feels like splitting hairs to complain that the album feels merely expert, rather than groundbreaking.

Assured as Parker’s technical skills may be, the heart of the album is a narrative arc shining a light on individual growth. “The Moment” confronts a now-or-never fork in the road, while “Yes I’m Changing” reconciles the choice to move ahead with the pain of what’s left behind. Closing track “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” contemplates change as illusory and temporary, skeptically suggesting Currents‘ arc is not a timeline, but a closed loop: skip back to “Let It Happen” and repeat, ad infinitum.

Currents answers Tame Impala’s rising profile with a daring change of direction, and that move has already earned comparisons to Kid A and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Excellent as the record is, the comparison is a bit generous—Currents doesn’t reach the heights of those seminal albums, and Parker’s boldness is of a safer variety. Whereas Radiohead and Wilco showed a willingness to lean into abstraction that bordered on perverse, Tame Impala does the opposite by embracing pop songwriting, and comes out all the more listenable for it.

“They say people never change, but that’s bullshit,” Parker confides on “Yes I’m Changing,” and Currents gives every reason to agree. Parker embraces change so successfully, we might assume he isn’t finished—Currents may be a mere pit stop on the way to Tame Impala‘s yet-to-come masterpiece, but it’s a trip well worth enjoying on its own.

Album Review: “Déjà Vu” by Giorgio Moroder

Deja Vu

Déjà Vu
Released: June 16th, 2015
Reviewed by Erik Wermuth
Rating: 2/5

The art for the Italian producer Giorgio Moroder’s new album Déjà Vu is an absolutely brilliant piece of marketing. It features the shape of Moroder’s signature handlebar mustache under a pair of retro sunglasses against a blazing neon pink background. The image taken together with the title is a clear invitation to remember his heyday in the early Eighties when he was producing major disco hits and classic scores for films like Flashdance, Scarface, and Top Gun. The picture, with its segmented, stylized face and visor also subtly invokes the famous masks of Daft Punk, whose 2013 album Random Access Memories was largely responsible for Moroder’s return to the public eye after a 30-year hiatus from releasing original music under his own name. He donated his voice and story to their track “Giorgio by Moroder” which really exemplifies Daft Punk’s ability to inject raw human emotion into the cold technique of electronic music. The album cover for Déjà Vu (not to mention its title) invites the listener to recall this bygone era. When Déjà Vu came up on my queue I fully expected an affectionate throwback album in the recent tradition of bands like Kavinsky and Chromeo. Who better to play on nostalgia for a lost decade than one of the originators of its now-classic sound? For my money, “Take My Breath Away” from the Top Gun soundtrack (interestingly, the song in his career of which Giorgio has stated he is the most proud) is one of the most intensely Eighties songs I can think of.

There are bigger disappointments in life than great marketing for a sub-par product, but none that sting quite like it.

To be clear, I don’t think that Déjà Vu is a bad piece of technical work. At all. Throughout the album one thing that remains eminently clear is that Moroder is a seasoned professional. Something is definitely gained here listening in a higher quality. Every song (and I mean every song) is locked down tighter than Tom Cruise’s jeans in Top Gun. The sound pops fully and consistently also much like Tom Cruise’s jeans in Top Gun. Unlike the Top Gun jeans, which contributed in their full and consistent tightness (uncomfortably so, in places) to the undeniable humanity of the character, the result for Déjà Vu is not the humanity of an artist, but the cold, airless distance of an advertising professional. From the tired piano chord-progressions to the pandering of the wub-wub basslines to the attempted guitar throwbacks to that early electronic sound, the work as a whole fails to convey any emotion whatsoever. Track titles like “Don’t Let Go”, “Right Here, Right Now”, and “Back and Forth” should convey just how little creative thought went into this album. It’s form without substance. It’s disco without cocaine. It’s Daft Punk if it turned out that they weren’t human after all.

There are some moments where the insufferably boring zero-risk attitude gives way to something more honestly felt. Charli XCX delivers an emotional vocal performance on “Diamonds” despite unimaginative production and (never thought that I’d be caught dead saying this) Britney Spears stole the show with her feature on “Tom’s Diner”. Her massively electronically altered voice fit the simple, haunting backtrack remarkably well. The only real bright spot for Moroder himself was the track “74 is the New 24”. It features far-and-away the best songwriting in the album as it’s the only song to feature any kind of personal involvement from the artist. Moroder was 74 at the time of the album’s release and obviously struggling with the idea of being one of the godfathers of electronic music still contributing to the scene decades later—the combination of faultless production and thematic elements beyond the disco power trio of Sex/Dancing, Love/Heartbreak, and Money/Drugs make “74 is the New 24” a pleasurable and thought-provoking listen. An entire album of tracks like it would have been a rare treasure.

Simply put, Déjà Vu completely fails to deliver on the aesthetic promise of its title and cover. Instead of a vibrant tribute to the feel of a lost decade with the tools of the present, the listener is presented with song after song full of all the clichés of contemporary pop and none of its inventiveness. The result is static and stale and the only nostalgia I’m feeling is for a time before I heard most of these tracks. I give Déjà Vu a disappointed 2/5.

Music for Your Workout

Nothing calls for the right music quite like an intense workout. Here are three of my picks to help get you through it!

Daft Punk Random Access MemoriesDaft Punk
Random Access Memories

Daft Punk is known to always deliver a surprise, and their latest work is no exception. The surprises began when one of the world’s best-know and best-loved Electronic Dance Music artists released an album that was much more ’70s/’80s pop, rock and disco  than it was EDM. As the opening track states, this album is a breath of fresh air; a work that announced its mission was to “Give Life Back to Music”.

The overall production quality of this album is absolutely superb; Daft Punk cut no corners on creating their latest statement. Although their music and instrumentals are fantastic, the real standout is their collaborations with artists they admire. Rather than pigeonholing themselves by working only with a certain type of artist, Daft Punk collaborates with artists young and old, spanning numerous genres, to create a truly well-rounded and interesting product. From Nile Rodgers’ and Pharrell’s turns in “Lose Yourself to Dance” and “Get Lucky” to vocals by famed house DJ Todd Edwards, Daft Punk proves themselves open to a range of influences.

Although the first half of the album gets off to a strong start with tracks like “Giorgio”, Random Access Memories comes alive in its second half. Cuts like “Touch” and “Contact” remind you why Daft Punk stole our hearts in the first place. “Get Lucky” may have been blaring through your speakers all year, but I promise: there’s workout gold–and musical gold–to be found in spades here.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Beyond”, “Touch”

Nas IllmaticNas
Illmatic

In 1994, 20-year-old Nas released an album that garnered very little attention. Fast forward 20 years (can you believe it?), and the up-and-coming rapper who wasn’t old enough to buy a beer is now one of hip-hop’s greatest stars. In those 20 years, Illmatic has become massively acclaimed; it is without a doubt one of the greatest (if not the greatest, but I’m showing my bias) rap albums ever released, and is a welcome counterpart to any workout.

This album is Nas’ homage to the Bridge, the housing projects where he was raised. True to its influence, it brought hip-hope back to New York in the days after West Coast star Dr. Dre released The Chronic. Most importantly, however, it casts Nas as a street poet, the voice of a generation. He narrates his story in a simple but thoughtful way, letting us in on the difficulties of life without losing hope. Nas is a storyteller: with each song’s end comes an unanswered question that leaves you waiting for the next.

My only complaint about this album is its brevity; less than 40 minutes feels like nowhere near long enough. You’ll find yourself on a run, inspired by each and every track, only to have the music end by around mile five. When I’m out running, though, I don’t skip to the next album. I just repeat it. This one’s that good.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “N.Y. State of Mind”, “The World is Yours”

David Guetta Nothing But the BeatDavid Guetta
Nothing But the Beat

You probably know David Guetta as the guy who brought techno sound to the records of everyone from Rihanna to Usher. There’s nothing more workout-inspiring than some guilty-pleasure Top 40 music, and Guetta is the mastermind behind many of today’s top hits. This album, however, proves that he’s not just the man behind the scenes–he’s created tracks that will take you from a run to a night out and back again.

Guetta does a great job of blending genres together to create an effortlessly smooth final product. His signature house-music inspired techno beats somehow fuse together with hip-hop and R&B, creating an irresistible mix of workout-worth sound. This album is nothing groundbreaking, but you can’t deny Guetta’s influence: from Will.i.am to Nicki Minaj to Usher, Nothing But the Beat boasts a star-studded turnout of collaborations.

Where Guetta shines brightest is bringing an artist into his or her element. Whether it’s lending a romantic club beat to crooner Usher or a pulsing, fast-paced rhyme to Nicki Minaj, he knows how to draw artists out and make them shine. That’s what makes this album memorable–Guetta has taken household names and helped them make their best a little bit better.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Titanium”, “Turn Me On”


Ally Boutelle
@arboutelle

Ally is a communications intern at Murfie, blogging about all things music. When she’s not typing away, she cooks spicy food, does hot yoga, and reads weird history books. She’s also a college student double majoring in history and journalism.


Grammy Recap: Top 10 Moments

Didn’t get a chance to watch all of the Grammys? No problem! In case you feel like recapping the highs and lows, I’ve compiled the 10 don’t-miss moments. Check ‘em out!

1. 34 Couples Getting Married—By Queen Latifah!

As Rap Album of the Year winners Macklemore and Ryan Lewis performed their song “Same Love”, Queen Latifah officiated the marriages of 34 couples.

2. Kendrick Lamar Duet with Imagine Dragons

Rap Album of the Year nominee Kendrick Lamar came together with rock group Imagine Dragons for a performance that created a truly epic fusion of electronic rock and hip-hop.

3. Beyonce and Jay-Z Leave the Audience “Drunk in Love”

The ultimate power couple put on the duet of the night—Hov and B’s version of “Drunk In Love” heated up the room and cemented their status as music’s golden duo.

4. Taylor Swift’s Surprise Letdown

Taylor Swift wore an overjoyed expression when she thought she had won Album of the Year—until she realized Daft Punk was actually being announced as the winner.

5. Yoko Ono Dancing

The late John Lennon’s former wife proved she could bust a move, dancing through Ringo Starr’s “Photograph” and Paul McCartney’s “Queenie Eye”.

6. Pink the Acrobat

Singer Pink showed off her Cirque de Soleil-esque acrobatic ability while her song “Try” played.

7. Pharrell Williams Communicates with Robots

Williams gave an acceptance speech on behalf of Daft Punk, who hid inside their famous helmets after winning the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance Grammy.

8. Taylor Swift’s Awkward Dance Moves

During rapper Kendrick’s Lamar’s performance of “M.A.A.A.d City”, Swift jammed out hard. The quality of her dance moves, however? You decide.

9. Macklemore’s Humblebrag

After winning Rap Album of the Year, Macklemore texted fellow nominee Kendrick Lamar to apologize for “robbing” him of the award. He then posted a screenshot of the conversation on Instagram.

10. Led Zeppelin Wins its First Grammy

Although Led Zeppelin has already been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the band was yet to win a statue. This year, however, it earned its first Grammy Award for Best Rock Album with “Celebration Day”.

Do you have any other top Grammy moments to add to this list? Let us know in the comments! Don’t forget to check out our collection of albums by 2014 Grammy nominees on Murfie.

Get to Know a Murfie Staffer!

Our operations team is the best! Ops staffers are here seven days a week, ripping discs, checking metadata, processing downloads, sending kits, and more. This week you can get to know an operations pro:

                ALEX SCHACHERL

c8babb38-df3d-11e2-8ec3-3520997e13f8Where are you from? > I’m originally from Galesville WI, about 20 minutes north of La Crosse, and I moved to Madison in 2010.

How long have you been working at Murfie? What is your role? > I’ve been here since February 2012, and by now I am a 9th level Audio extractor with cross class capabilities in Download Protection (Operations Staff).

What do you like about working at Murfie? > I love the fact that anyone I talk to about my job is instantly jealous of the amazing work environment and job description.

What kind of music can be found in your collection? > Mainly folk, pop/rock, and stand up comedy. Lately I have been acquiring lots of film soundtracks and scores.

Who are your favorite artists/bands of all time? > Mumford & Sons, Tenacious D, Flight of the Concords, The Beatles, and Daft Punk.

29214-largeIf you could have coffee with any musician, from any time, who would it be and why? > Harry Connick Jr., because according to several of the Murfie staff I am his Doppelganger.

Are you a Beyoncé fan? > Who doesn’t love Foxxy Cleopatra?

What album are you really digging right now? > The Greatest Video Game Music, performed by the London Philharmonic. I’m an aspiring game developer, and there’s just something about an orchestrated Tetris theme that I just can’t get over.

photoDo you have any pets? > Currently, my two gerbils, Korra and Katara.

What is your favorite food? > I could probably eat boneless wings for dinner every night.

What can people find you doing when you’re not at Murfie? > When I’m not at work or school, I spend a good chunk of my time rehearsing and performing with Fundamentally Sound, an all male acappella group from the UW Madison campus. Other than that I enjoy gaming, frolfing, and all sorts of other merriment with friends and family!

Now you know more about Alex, a Murfie ops staffer extraordinaire! We love showing off all the cool cats who work here. Stay tuned and meet someone new next week!