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Sam Hope reviews the hotly-anticipated fourth album from the Perth-based psych project
Kevin Parker’s psychedelic project Tame Impala has potentially been the most commanding force in recent indie music. Leading the charge of the modern psychedelic revival into the mainstream, producing Travis Scott’s work and scoring mass hits in the likes of “The Less I Know The Better”, he has been a key force in music. However, moving into the 20s, with his album kicking off the decade, a question on the minds on many is how far this influence will extend. With this album, although showing highlights of excellence, it is hard to ignore the overwhelming sense of this unchanging sound becoming tired.
Surging into popularity with his second album Lonerism, Parker brought a fresh, accessible modern take on the psychedelic movement that preceded him. Extending with the poppier Currents, Tame Impala lined the halls of the “Yeah I love indie! People like um…” iconography. Yet with a fourth album now sticking to the same sound, it is hard to see this monopoly lasting much longer.
Beginning with the One More Year, it is clear the direction of this album would not be a break from his sound. Starting with spacey distorted loops, this adhered strongly to the image we’ve come to know and love. Growing further with a wide synthetic orchestra and reverbed voices, this track is well within Parker’s wheelhouse, showcasing his talents for the genre excellently. Yet with the next track, ‘Instant Destiny’, presenting this same sound in a far less engaging way, my fears started to realise.
Borderline, the lead single, shows an alternate universe with Tame Impala setting the narrative for an indie to still come. Borrowing highly from the structures of nu-disco acts like Parcels, mixed with his talents for mystic dreaminess, this was a distinct sound that drew me so clearly to this project as the breaking of the formula. Yet for me, this feeling of a new sound doesn’t continue. It breaks out again in “Is It True”, with its Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” like percussion and catchy bass lick, but this is very much the exception rather than the rule.
Sticking to a B Sides of Lonerism approach in many tracks, such as “It Might Be Time” and “Tomorrow’s Dust”, Parker makes it brutally easy to quickly get tired of this album. The one true saving grace of this sound to me, however, is “Posthumous Forgiveness”, which is the natural stand out a masterpiece of the record. Taking clear influence from Pink Floyd ballads, featuring eerie minor key changes and multiple guitars and synth solos, it raises above far above this project and much of his discography to an ascendant feeling to me only “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control” has reached.
So, as much as there are many songs on this record I like, I can’t help but feel disappointed. With the start of a new decade and a 5-year gap since his last album, I was hoping for sonic development, finding new horizons as other hugely popular indie contemporaries on a similar timeline such as Bon Iver and The 1975 have. However here, we have another collection of tracks that could have been released in the early 10s without you doubting their period for a second. Flashes of the disco-y potential this album’s direction could have gone in emerge at times. Yet, they remain flashes, giving way eventually to the neo-psychedelic pop shtick that has gained him popularity over the past decade. For already entrenched Tame Impala superfans, this may feel perfect, yet for me, it screams of a missed opportunity.