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.

Stream the Monterey Pop Festival

….just use a little imagination!

It’s June 16th, 1967. You’re 20 years old, and you bought a ticket to the Monterey Pop Festival in California.

With the right soundtrack, you can imagine being there for three days of psychedelic music and fun, without feeling like a packed sardine.

The festival lineup was quite astounding. Bands like The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Jefferson Airplane were in their heyday when the Monterey Pop Festival took place. Here are some albums that can bring you back to those days in the Summer of Love, with nothing but music on your mind. Most are available for just a few dollars, ready to stream and download!

Monterey Pop Festival Ticket

Friday, June 16th, 1967

The Association – psychedelic folk, sunshine pop

The Association

The Association

The Association

 

 

 

 

 

Lou Rawls – R&B, soul, blues, jazz

Lou RawlsLou RawlsLou Rawls

 

 

 

 

 

Eric Burdon & The Animals – blues rock, psychedelic rock

Eric BurdonEric Burdon songs The AnimalsThe Animals

 

 

 

 

 

Simon & Garfunkel – folk rock

Simon & GarfunkelSimon & garfunkelSimon & garfunkel

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, June 17th, 1967

Continue reading Stream the Monterey Pop Festival

Best of the Best: The Beatles

Making a Top 5 list of Beatles albums is a daunting task. There are so many obsessive, argumentative, die-hard Beatles fans and hecklers out there.

I’ve known about The Beatles my whole life—from hearing their hits played on the radio, to seeing documentaries, reading articles, and even obtaining some choice albums and compilations. I also used to be on a radio show called Here, There and Everywhere on KZSC-Santa Cruz, spinning tunes by The Beatles, the four solo members, and anyone related to them. I’ve enjoyed most of their music, and I’m aware of the band’s sonic and personal development over time.

The Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr) not just changed with the times—they SET the times. They discovered new places, people, and ways of thinking, and were incredibly public with sharing their journeys with the rest of the world. Their albums give a snapshot of their changing mindsets and priorities, and over time, a few have stood out to me as the best. What do you think of this list?


 5 . With the Beatles (1963)

With the Beatles

1963’s With The Beatles, the band’s second studio album, will start the low end of this list. My personal preferences (since we all have them) lean towards the latter part of The Beatles’ career, but this oldie stands out to me for a few reasons. First off, it gives a good look at the origins of the band: bowl cuts, songs about love, one foot stuck in the 50’s. Top that off with covers of classic Motown hits like Barrett Strong‘s “Money (That’s What I Want)” and the Marvelettes‘ famous “Please Mister Postman,” and you’ve got a recipe for commercial success that people in the early sixties will obsess over.

Album highlights: “It Won’t Be Long,” “Please Mister Postman,” “Hold Me Tight,” “Money (That’s What I Want)”

4 . Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Here we go—you’ll notice things have changed a bit with this album. By 1967, The Beatles had begun to experiment with new things—musically and more. Sgt. Pepper can be considered an early form of a concept album, where the band performs as a different group called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It’s an important set of recordings because it helped solidify the “album” concept as a whole (i.e. releasing a special curated group of songs, vs. just singles on a record). It also helped introduce elements of psychedelia into British rock. The Beatles started to be open with their use of substances like marijuana and LSD, by vague and not-so-vague references (“I get by with a little help from my friends / oh I get high with a little help from my friends”). Even though John Lennon explained the pure coincidence between the song “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and the abbreviation L.S.D., the song is heavily surreal all the same. “Within You Without You” is an excellent song written by George Harrison and performed by a group of Indian musicians, which holds true to elements of classic Indian musical style. With phrases of Vedantic philosophy, Indian beats, and sitar galore, you’ve got a real example of how the Beatles’ sound had literally traveled thousands of miles and beyond. Sgt. Pepper, to this day, is one of the best-selling albums in music history.

Album highlights: “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Fixing a Hole,” “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” “Within You Without You”

Also awesome: The mashup of “Within You Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows” on The Beatles LOVE.

3 . Magical Mystery Tour (1967)

Magical Mystery Tour

Here’s one that came out soon after Sgt. Pepper, later in 1967. The Beatles kept the surreal/fantasy trip going with Magical Mystery Tour. I mean, just look at the cover art. The idea for this album started when Paul McCartney wanted to create a film about the band. Descriptions of the plot are weird, to say the very least, and the film was poorly received. But it left us with a few hits that are widely enjoyed and remade, including the nonsensical “I Am the Walrus” (remember when Bono sang it in Across the Universe?), and “Hello Goodbye.” After releasing two psychedelic albums in 1967, it became clear the fab four had departed from tame songs about heartache and relationships to themes of universal love and endless imagination.

Album highlights: “I Am the Walrus,” “Hello Goodbye,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Baby You’re a Rich Man,” “All You Need is Love”

2 . The Beatles (The White Album) (1968)

The Beatles - The White Album

Yes. Yes! With two whole discs making up The Beatles’ White Album, it’s hard not to find a few that you really like on here. This album goes all over the place—for better or worse—but it’s still high up on the list. The White Album brings a lot of great, solid rock n’ roll to the table: “Back in the USSR,” “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?,” and the widely-used b-day jam, “Birthday.” The song “Happiness is a Warm Gun” is one of my all-time Beatles favorites, and it’s great to sing along to (especially when the singing breaks to a bluesy dialogue spoken by John Lennon: “When I hold you in my arms / And I feel my finger on yoooour trigger…”). The song was banned by the BBC for its references to sex and drug addiction (“I need a fix ’cause I’m going down”). Those references are clear, but it’s an honest and raw tune. The album goes to softer places with the famous and beautiful song “Blackbird.” Overall, the social and political references are prominent throughout discs 1 and 2, and The White Album does an incredible job at showing us what it was like in 1968 (for those of us who don’t know).

Album highlights: “Back in the USSR,” “Dear Prudence,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” “Blackbird,” “Rocky Raccoon,” “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?”,  “Birthday,” “Revolution 1,” “Honey Pie”

1 . Abbey Road (1969)

Abbey Road

Ah yes, Abbey Road makes #1 on my list. Let’s start from the top. The album name is a tribute to Abbey Road Studios in London, where The Beatles recorded the majority of their work, and the iconic cover art is constantly being re-enacted by fans (watch a live stream here!). This is The Beatles’ 11th studio album, and reportedly their best-selling. The first track, “Come Together,” is insanely good because of the way it makes you move and groove. I won’t go through every track, but I encourage you to get a copy for your collection and listen through it. The best song on here, in my honest opinion, is “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” The emotion and desire in that song is so very real. It’s a long song, almost stretching eight minutes, and it changes rhythmically and stylistically at different points. You’re taken on a roller coaster, going everywhere from cool, calm observation, to the fiery depths of despair and defeat. Just when you think you caught a break, you’re hit in the heart with a burst of heavy guitar riffs after the words “She’s so—.” At that point, the song transcends the auditory realm into something you can physically feel, and it’s heavy as hell. The lyrics are sparse, letting the music do the talking. This is The Beatles at their very best, and at their last. They disbanded before the record was even released. Ending on a lighter note, George Harrison’s song “Here Comes the Sun” is fundamentally positive and optimistic, and a favorite of many Beatles fans. In a way, it’s looking towards a future where music by the entire band and its individual members will continue to be played and enjoyed by all kinds of people, even those who came after their time.

Album highlights: “Come Together,” “Oh! Darling,” “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Mean Mr. Mustard/Poythene Pam/She Came in through the Bathroom Window”


If you agree or disagree with my Top 5 albums, let me know in the comments! And, of course, check out The Beatles discography on Murfie.


Kayla Liederbach
@djkaylakush

Kayla manages social media and customer support at Murfie. You can hear her on the radio hosting U DUB, the reggae show, Wednesdays on WSUM. She enjoys hosting the Murfie podcast, cooking, traveling, going to concerts, and snuggling with kittycats.


Vote! Which Decades Would You Flash Back To?

We invented a time machine here at Murfie! (Okay, this is not 100% true—but stay with me here!)

This time machine lets you re-visit any decade you want (back to the 1940s—it’s our beta version), and it’ll take you on a tour of the best, most ground-breaking concerts ever to happen. If you got the chance, what decades would you re-visit? You can choose more than one!

Interview with Bleeding Rainbow [Podcast]

Bleeding Rainbow has just one request: Don’t ask about their band name! Focus on their sound. They’ve been described as “Psychedelic Shoepunk Post-gaze,” if that makes it any clearer. In this interview, band member and singer, Sarah, discusses the evolution of Bleeding Rainbow from a 2 to 4-piece, the current trend of super-strung-together-genre-classifications, and yes, their band name.

135577-largeWho: Bleeding Rainbow; interviewed by Kayla Liederbach
What: Sarah gives insight on the music scene that can only come from a real insider
Where: Murfie HQ, Madison, WI
When: Friday, January 18th, 2013
How: Recorded by Kayla Liederbach
File: mp3 version

Find music by Bleeding Rainbow in our Murfie Top Hits shop.

Check out more of the band at www.facebook.com/rainbowbleeding.

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