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.

Radiohead: A Career Defying Expectations


Pablo Honey
Radiohead, an English rock band from Oxfordshire, has made a career out of defying expectations. Over eight studio albums, the band—which consists of Thom Yorke, Johnny and Colin Greenwood, Phil Selway and Ed O’Brien—has constantly re-invented their sound, and managed to rack up 18 Grammy nominations and over 30 million in record sales along the way.

The five men met as boys in 1985, and quickly formed a band called “On A Friday.” Yet they didn’t hit their first break until 1991, when they happened upon a representative from EMI. After requesting that the five-piece change their name, the band signed a six-record deal as the newly named “Radiohead.”

RadioheThe Bendsad released their first record, Pablo Honey, in 1993. Largely influenced by the recent grunge and alternative rock movements, Pablo Honey sold relatively well and spawned the hit “Creep”; it also spawned the band’s first nickname, “Nirvana Lite.” Yorke and company quickly grew tired of being lazily lumped in with their peers, so for their next record, The Bends, they worked with producer Nigel Godrich in an attempt to shift their focus. What resulted was critical success and a cemented status as one of the top Brit-rock bands around.

OK ComputerYet again, Radiohead quickly grew tired of being set side by side with the other Britpop bands of the ‘90s. They responded in 1997 with the illustrious OK Computer, an album chock full of guitars and Thom Yorke’s now-legendary falsetto. Lyrically, OK Computer harks on the pitfalls of consumerism and the isolation experienced in the modern age; instrumentally, it’s all over the map: there are ballads (“Karma Police”), rockers (“Electioneering”), and songs that hit every mark in between (“Paranoid Android”). OK Computer was both a critical and commercial blockbuster, instantly landing the number one spot on the U.K. charts and eventually winding up at the 162nd spot on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

ExpectationKid As to deliver a hit record vastly increased after OK Computer, and again, Radiohead responded by shifting into new sonic territory. In 2000, they unleashed Kid A onto the world. Or should I say, the Internet did; Kid A was one of the first albums to ever leak on file sharing programs, and, with its heavy reliance on electronic samples and digital effects, it was an eerie fit. Even though Radiohead’s trademark guitar-driven sound is nearly absent on Kid A, it’s arguably their best. Heck, forget Radiohead: Kid A—which went on to win a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album and was subsequently ranked the number one album of the 2000s by both Rolling Stone and Pitchfork Media—is arguably one of the greatest albums of all time.

AmnesiacRumor had it that the Kid A sessions had fostered enough music to span two discs, and, lo and behold, Radiohead released Amnesiac the following year. Amnesiac explores the same digital world as Kid A, (they both feature “Morning Bell”) but their respective perspectives are quite distinct. Amnesiac marked the fifth time the band had worked with Nigel Godrich, and it was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2001.

Hail to the Thief Radiohead returned to their rock roots in 2003 with the release of Hail to the Thief, their most overtly political statement to date. Hail to the Thief is also the band’s most musically sporadic work, due to the way it was quickly recorded and loosely assembled. It was their fifth straight album to be nominated for the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album.

In RainbowsAfter Hail to the Thief, Radiohead was no longer under contract with EMI. So for their next album, In Rainbows, the band opted out of signing any new contracts. Instead, they released it themselves in a pay-what-you-want format that many independent bands have adopted for use today. At the time, I thought they broke music. Now, I see that the marketing strategy was tremendously successful, though it doesn’t hurt that In Rainbows is a blend of nearly every version of Radiohead imaginable. In Rainbows is also arguably the band’s most accessible album besides OK Computer, which was, perhaps coincidentally, released exactly ten years earlier.

In 2011The King of Limbs, Radiohead released their most recent album, King of Limbs. Again working with Nigel Godrich, King of Limbs found the band focusing less on typical song structures and more on looping techniques. On one hand, the album is clearly distinct from the rest of their catalogue; on the other, its differences are what makes it wholly a Radiohead record.

As of 2014, Radiohead is on a well-deserved break. In the mean time, us fans are anxiously awaiting their next pitch. I hope it’s another curveball.


Andrew Brandt
@andrewtbrandt

Andrew is a communications intern at Murfie. When he’s not blogging here, you can probably find him blogging at a handful of other music sites. And when he’s not blogging at all, you can probably find him curled up with a good beer and a great book.



Staff Picks: Ally’s Picks

As a Murfie newbie in an office populated by seasoned music lovers and audiophiles, I thought there was no better way to make my introduction to Murfie’s blogosphere than to make my own musical statement. Now, it’s worth noting that though I may be young, I don’t tend to be the Murfian digging up the next big thing. I’m a believer in my own tried and true—the bands that have continued to narrate my life by never failing to make music that just sounds right.  I’m the kid you went to elementary school with who just wouldn’t ditch his blankie: when something’s right, I never want to let go.

6334-largeKid A by Radiohead

As a die-hard Radiohead worshipper, it’s rare to find a Radiohead album I don’t like. Kid A, however, occupies its own musical universe. It’s music that gets under your skin, a paradoxical listening experience that’s quiet and cacophonous at the same time. Thom Yorke’s famous alien-esque vocals lend an ethereal feel to the album, giving you 48 minutes of a complicated, slightly unsettling dream. At the end of those 48 minutes and after tracks like “Everything in Its Right Place” and “Idioteque”, you’re left amazed that this album was created in a studio. What makes Radiohead the greatest band on earth is exactly that: every track sounds like the product of some unearthly time and space—and leaves you longing to learn more.

5710-largeWhite Blood Cells by The White Stripes

This album is not only at the top of my most played albums list; it so far exceeds the second place finisher that it feels like a natural, if not inevitable, fit on my staff picks. Without a single dud of a song, White Blood Cells has become as natural a part of my day as breathing (and certainly more natural than waking up in the morning). The White Stripes don’t have much instrumental variety—they love their guitar and drums—but there’s something about the way they handle them that takes this album to another level. It’s rock and it’s blues and it’s gritty and hard, but it also has the variety and sentiment to make you feel each song right along with them. And feel you do—tracks like “The Union Forever” and “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known” illustrate Jack and Meg White’s mastery of imparting endless meaning into succinct songs. Their endlessly interesting take on rock keeps me pressing “play” over and over again.

Staff Picks: Top Albums for Lossless Listening (FLAC & ALAC)

One of my favorite aspects of Murfie is the ability to download my albums in lossless formats.  I personally prefer FLAC, but ALAC is an equally great option.  I was super excited, then, to hear about our partnership to allow lossless streaming on Sonos and VOCO devices.

Now that I have the ability to stream in full, lossless CD quality, I thought it would be fun to recommend a few albums that are particularly great for lossless listening.  This list was put together largely by consulting mixing and mastering insiders.  These are albums often used by studio engineers as standards for how a particular genre may sound at peak performance.  With that said, grab a good pair of headphones or hook up your Sonos or VOCO and relax!

12912-largeSea Change by Beck was mastered by Bob Ludwig, one of the most respected mastering engineers around.  In addition to working on Sea Change, Ludwig has worked with over 1300 artists, including the Kronos Quartet, Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead and more.  Sea Change does a great job of pumping out clear dynamics without falling too far into the trenches of the Loudness War.  Particularly of note here are the vocal and drum captures.

21411-largeAnother great piece of work by Bob Ludwig is New Favorite by Alison Krauss + Union Station. This album is noted for great clarity in vocals, maintaining solid, crisp levels for the rest of the sonic space, too.  Everything is mixed into a great soft texture that will fill up any room.  A lot of the popularity of this album – which charted on Billboard for both Country and Bluegrass categories – comes from the fact that Alison Krauss also appeared on the exceedingly popular O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack the same year as New Favorite debuted.

6675-largeWith over 10 million sales across all albums, Deep Forest is perhaps one of the most popular world music groups around.  Their debut self-titled Deep Forest album accounts for nearly a third of those 10 million sales alone.  Deep Forest was mastered by Vlado Meller at Sony’s New York studios, and it demonstrates a wide range of sonic qualities, all mastered together as one cohesive unit.  If you want some good sounding lossless reverb, this is the album for you.  Though the group is still active, the only album to outsell their debut has been 1995’s Boheme, with over 4 million sales worldwide.

59377-largeGeorge Duke was a master and pioneer of the keyboard, dominating the world of jazz, as well as mainstream music.  Unfortunately, Duke passed away earlier this month, but his legacy is huge to say the least.  Many of Duke’s newer recordings were mastered by John Vestman and mixed by Erik Zobler, and are used as reference discs for how keyboards should sound.  Duke’s solid arrangements make for very clear, wide recordings that sound great on headphones or high-end systems.  I personally recommend CoolIs Love Enough? and Dukey Treats.

Now that you have some of my picks for lossless listening, I’d like to hear yours!  What album(s) do you think sound the best, particularly in a lossless format?  Leave a comment below, and we’ll give it a spin at Murfie HQ.

Shopkeep of the Week

What were you up to on April 15th, 2011? Micah was joining Murfie on that day! (Woot!)

Shortly after that, he sent a kit of about 500 discs all the way from Mequon, WI…to Madison, WI! And he’s sold a bunch of them so far. We asked this hardcore Murfie guy a few questions about him and his collection.
micahEberman_horns_color

Murfie: How did you originally learn about Murfie?
Micah: My first exposure to Murfie was completely random. I was waiting in reception, a bit early for a meeting with a client (I’m in marketing), and was paging through their Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Or perhaps it was their WSJ. Regardless, it was an interview with the founders during the first year of business I believe…pretty early on. It really caught my attention because I am a total tech nerd, always looking for ways to digitize my life. I’ve been into digital (web, mobile, etc.) visual design and interaction design for years, and their concept seemed really intriguing to me. It reminded me of my pre-marketing days when I worked at a music shop in CA, turning people on to rare finds and great deals in the used department. And hey, they were right in my backyard…Madison! I got home, went online, and requested a couple 500 count boxes, filling them up and shipping them out immediately. My shop was up and running in no time.

Murfie: When did you purchase your first CD? What was it?
Micah: My first CD ever, or Murfie? Can’t remember on Murfie, but I actually bought two CD’s as my first purchase. Jellyfish‘s Bellybutton album and Presto by Rush.

Murfie: How many CDs do you own (or did you own at peak)?
Micah: Probably over 1200 for a while.

Murfie: How tall are you?
Micah: 6 feet tall.

Murfie: Tell us about your musical tastes.
Micah: My tastes are pretty varied as I have musical loves from jazz to musicals, from classical to some classic rock gems, but what I mainly listen to falls into indie rock, 80’s wave, smart pop, and intelligent heavy rock.

Murfie: What can folks expect to find in your store (if different than the above)?
Micah:

Murfie: If you could meet any musician or band in person, who would it be and why?
Micah: It would have to be Robert Smith of The Cure. He and the band have meant so much to me over the years. I’d love to hear stories from the 34 years of history, find out what he’s listening to nowadays…heck, if I’m dreamin’ here I’d throw in a jam session and see if I can get in the band.

Murfie: What is your favorite album at the moment?
Micah: A few, actually. The Joy Formidable‘s Wolf’s Law, No One Loves You Like I Do by The Life and Times, The Goldberg Sisters (eponymous), and The National‘s Boxer, Alligator, and High Violet.

Murfie: What do you plan to do with the millions of dollars you’re making from your Murfie shop?
Micah: Fill out my music collection, buy music gear, record my next album, sell it on Murfie!

Murfie: Which Beatle was your favorite?
Micah: Gotta go with John. He came up with the amazing “bits” and Paul would make them cohesive and string them together, but man…John had the goods.

Check out Micah’s shop on Murfie!

Shopkeep of the Week is a weekly feature that focuses on our most interesting Murfie shopkeepers. These are music lovers like you who have sold hundreds of pre-loved CDs on Murfie and have hundreds more at the ready to please your ears! If you’d like your Murfie Shop to be featured, or if you’d like to nominate a shop to be featured, please e-mail us at info@murfie.com and let us know.

Shopkeep of the Week

2013_0403_featuredshop_may23Way, way back in the good old days of October 2011, Marcus decided to sign up for Murfie. Since then, he’s ordered two kits and sent about 450 discs from Massachusetts to Madison. He’s sold hundreds of them so far, and made some nice cash! Heres a little bit more about this CD-selling pro.

Murfie: How did you originally learn about Murfie?
Marcus: I heard about Murfie on NPR on the bus back to Boston from NYC and I signed up on my smartphone then and there.

Murfie: When did you purchase your first CD? What was it?
Marcus: I purchased my first CD in 1992 at Turtle Music in Atlanta, but I can’t remember what album it was.

Murfie: How many CDs do you own (or did you own at peak)?
Marcus: I owned over 500 CDs at one time.

Murfie: How tall are you?
Marcus: 5 feet 11 and a half inches, and that half is important.

Murfie: Tell us about your musical tastes.
Marcus: My musical tastes are pretty wide ranging, from Lightning Hopkins, Muddy Waters, and Miles Davis, to Neil Young, Radiohead, and The Decemberists, but it probably culminates in the Southern Blues/Rock sound. I never get tired of JJ Grey & Mofro, Whiskey Town, My Morning Jacket and Widespread Panic.

Murfie: What can folks expect to find in your store (if different than the above)?
Marcus: A little bit of everything.

Murfie: If you could meet any musician or band in person, who would it be and why?
Marcus: That is a tough one. I would probably go with Muddy Waters since he is no longer with us and there is still a chance I could meet Neil Young or the boys from Widespread Panic.

Murfie: What is your favorite album at the moment?
Marcus: Since it is spring, I really love listing to the first disc of Light Fuse, Get Away with the windows down while driving. Panic is extremely tight on this live album and the set list progression is just pure perfection.

Murfie: What do you plan to do with the millions of dollars you’re making from your Murfie shop?
Marcus: Create my own festival headlined by Panic and Neil Young so they can perform “Walk On”, “Are You Ready for the Country” and “Mr. Soul” together.

Murfie: Which Beatle was your favorite?
Marcus: I don’t have a favorite Beatle, I know it may be sacrilegious, but I’m not really a Beatles fan.

Check out Marcus’ shop on Murfie!

Shopkeep of the Week is a weekly feature that focuses on our most interesting Murfie shopkeepers. These are music lovers like you who have sold hundreds of pre-loved CDs on Murfie and have hundreds more at the ready to please your ears! If you’d like your Murfie Shop to be featured, or if you’d like to nominate a shop to be featured, please e-mail us at info@murfie.com and let us know.

Happy Earth Day 2013!

Happy Earth day to all our fellow Earth citizens! Today is the perfect day to pick out some tunes that deepen our appreciation for this great blue/green planet.

What music inspires you to think about nature? What music ignites your environmental activist flame? What music makes you think of flowing waters, fields of flowers, and happy squirrels?

Here’s what our Murfie staffers have to say!

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Steel PulseAfrican Holocaust
Kayla: The song “Global Warning” is a smash hit. It points out the harsh reality that a lot of environmental problems are created by humans. But it is hopeful, calling us towards a common goal to re-arrange.

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Earth – Pentastar: In the Style of Demons
Jeff: A wall of slow, crushing sludge-rock from the forefathers of doom. How could this album not make you think about the Earth, especially its immense size, and how it would feel if it rolled over you?

1dbb9dc8-e007-11e1-af0b-12313d184814Ani DiFrancoRed Letter Year
Noah: The song “The Atom” is almost a hymn, calling for taking care of the Earth and disparaging the use of nature to destroy.

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R.E.M.Green
Matt: Look at the title and cover. Need I say more?

MI0000392903Pirates of the Caribbean Soundtrack
Matt: Best experienced while sailing on a windy night, listening to this soundtrack really puts me in the groove of the ocean.

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Yo La Tengo I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One
Glynnis: “Green Arrow” has always perfectly encapsulated a lazy, aimless summer evening for me. Follow it up with “Autumn Sweater”, and you’ve got me longing for all my favorite kinds of weather, ready to go outside and enjoy a nice evening breeze.

e1d4cafe-85cb-11e1-9f65-1231381d530bBen Sollee 
RJ: My pick for Earth Day is any album by Ben Sollee. The reason I picked this wonderful musician is because he travels by bicycle when he tours. You can’t get any more earthy then Ben!

Bob DylanThe Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan6840-large
Tiffany: Bob Dylan hails from Minnesota and his music always seems to come straight from the agricultural heart of the Midwest. This album was the one that put Dylan on the map as a folk protest singer.

MI0001645112Nick Drake Fruit Tree
Pete: Fruit Tree by Nick Drake is my choice. As well as being a great song in itself, it’s also the title of a four-disc box set featuring all three of Nick Drake’s studio albums. His music always reminds me of the English countryside. 6748-large

 

Midnight OilDiesel and Dust
Preston: The track “Dreamworld” in particular makes me feel all warm and full of hope.

MI0001767347GojiraFrom Mars to Sirius
Keith: Not many people know this, but a lot of metal can be spiritual. Many of Gojira’s songs are about getting energy from the Earth and from nature. This is a great album, although it’s not for those who are new to the traditional death-metal sound.6351-large

RadioheadHail to the Thief
Henry: Stick it to the man.

We’re hoping that everyone gets a bit of sunshine today, and a chance to think about the great planet that we call home! Maybe one of these albums will become your top Earth Day pick too!