Album Review: Tame Impala – “Lonerism”

“This could be the day that we push through / the day that all our dreams come through / For me, turning at the end just to look.”

When you think of the title, and look at the album cover of Tame Impala’s second album, Lonerism, you build an assumption that this is a record that’s going to come across with certain attachments the whole ‘us and them’ mystique that a lot of prog and psych records peddle either so cheaply, or make it a hallmark of the genre. You’re not listening or experiencing a proper psychedelic album unless you’re turned on to what we’re talking about. The whole ‘are you experienced?’ trip, but combined with the kind of pastoral folk sentiment that makes me loathe to listen to stuff that concentrates on sounding like the product of a fairly entrepreneurial communal farm. Lonerism could have been that simple-as-fucking hell album, and in many ways, it is. But that’s also because Kevin Parker, the band’s chief architect for these walls of sound, gets it better than any one else who tries their hand at neo-psych these days. And while many will harp on trying to pick out the influences one by one (a fun game on any rainy day for those of us who care about the trivia), it’s more important to point out that he crafts this stuff like an old master, but still takes the time to get the record to sound painfully personal, and that is a task that goes beyond the intimacy of good lyrics.

After the Jump, Tame Impala shows that there’s not so much an ‘us’ and ‘them.’

 

There’s a good chance you’ll get two different feelings from this album, depending upon how you listen. On speakers, where people can listen with you, the bright, airy qualities offer up a fairly passive but effective expression of altered perceptions and states: Parker’s voice is a fair John Lennon-like moan that works best singing long extended melodic phrases and echoed against compressed keyboards that wheeze and whine through out the album. You could feel like there’s so much air to explore, and stare in wonder.

On headphones, all that air to discover and explore around in, is oppressive. There’s way too much out there to even begin to think of where to start, and you get caught in an odd tension between the microcosm in your head, and the whole universe that happens to feature that microcosm. In listening on headphones, you can enjoy the bass melodies that propel you slowly, but joyfully, through these dense fields of keyboards, and the vocals are less a part of this grand picture, but something you hear from two rooms away that happens to come in sync with this music.

Most of the tracks lock into each other, with similar colors and movements that convey that this is indeed an album experience, and it’s hard for me to imagine taking away any of the tracks and still having the same positive experience. “Be Above It,” the opening track, welcomes you with that phrase, whispered repeated as a droning bass beneath explosive swatches of keyboards and a propulsive drum beat that may as well also be a sample rather than the product of human hands. It’d be a great track to run to during a sunrise on Mars. That’s the kind of imagery that much of the album inspires. Many of the moments on the a bum convey that sort of silly-but-serious spaciness that makes it fun to read Kurt Vonnegut.

“Endors Toi” is a mostly instrumental track that shows off some great atmospheric guitar work (and there’s little guitar to be heard behind all the synths and the drums like that bash and propel like Keith Moon taking it easy for once). “Apocalypse Dreams,” the third song and the first to sound like a potential single captures a similarly relentless drum, even as the song slows and speeds between every verse and chorus, which is welcomes by a gorgeous melodic bass run that that moves with tension and yearning against the freeing, bright keys.

But there is a single, and it’s one hell of a single if you ask me — the lumbering, strictly dark “Elephant.” Scaling back on the keyboards and instant-ambient qualities that come with such dense walls of sound, it’s the one song where the pounding drums, steady and ominous bass, and a fuzz boxed guitar eventually lead the way back to those celestial keyboards, while Parker sings perhaps his most intentionally confusing lyrics about a character who has power and doesn’t realize he’s just as fragile and susceptible to the same laws of the universe as the rest of us. Finishing up with a short drum fill that borders on a solo, one last chorus of ‘yeah’ ends this bizarre tale, and we move back to that big oppressive air, this time with more shredding guitar work, still embedded somewhere in these washes of keys in the short coda, “She Just Won’t Believe Me.”

By the album’s end, Parker throws in what sounds like home recordings of personal conversations, dinner parties and a trip to the beach beneath all of this sound, as if the atmospherics weren’t enough to impress you. Instead, it reinforces all this wondrous exploration, as one of the voices cuts through, “I’ve been thinking about everything.” And clearly, it’s all too much to end on, as the album ends wraps up in “Sun’s Coming Up,” a mournful waltz played only on a piano mixed down while Parker sings of a man playing guitar while his father dies of cancer, memories long since past. But even then, that’s not the final note: that trip to the beach plays beneathe a twangy, echoing guitar that drives the point home, that it’s all slipped away, and what you have is what you have, and you’re not sure what to do with it, or if it’s even useful to you going forward.

GRADE: A. If I could play the ‘sounds like’ influences name game for a second, forgetting about where certain riffs or lyrics may have been lifted, but I will say that Lonerism is a perfect mirror of Pink Floyd’s second album, A Saucerful of  Secrets. In these two albums, elements of light combine and contrast with dark in these expansive fields of atmospheric sound. There’s very few riffs or motifs to hang onto or hum, but that’s because this is artful side of rock we’re talking about. The difference between the two albums, however, is that Saucerful plays as a record of produced by a band experimenting for the sake of their own talents and pushing the limits of what is acceptable for the consumer’s ears. But Tame Impala don’t have that responsibility to win you over with being weird or pushing your taste toward the avant-garde. Not that it should drive the focus of the work anyway, but Lonerism lets it work for the sake of including you in this mindspace that’s all Parker’s creation — one that you’re more than welcome to use for your own experience.

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