The first time I heard Tame Impala, it was a 2015 live performance on Late Night with Stephen Colbert. The band didn’t register for me at first. The whole presentation – from front-man Kevin Parker’s long hair and falsetto to the bubbling keyboard pads – struck me as a misfiring millennial tribute to yacht rock, the soft rock form pioneered by the likes of late-era Steely Dan, Michael MacDonald, Christopher Cross and many more in the late 70s and early 80s.
At the urging of a good friend, I decided to give their album at the time, “Let it Happen,” a chance. I’m glad I did. It quickly became among my favorite records that year. Yes, there were elements of yacht rock, but many of the songs on the record have an edge you’d never find on a Peter Cetera record. There are prominent guitar riffs, thumping drum loops, and sophisticated arrangements. The sound is both big and a little dangerous. My first impression was way off.
The band’s (though Tame Impala is really all Parker, who writes, performs and records everything, handing his “bandmates” a completed record which they learn in order to tour.) new album, “The Slow Rush,” has a lot in common with the last, but it’s traded in the psych rock for a slightly more polished sound that has fewer guitar sounds and more loops and keyboard pads.
From the moment of the first track, “One More Year,” Parker sets the tone for a rich blend of sounds – low bass, lush keyboard pads and an even more up-front, “boom bap” drum sound that propels every song forward, edging his material a bit closer to electronic dance music and contemporary hip hop and pop sounds. If the “Let it Happen” was a mix of Bee Gees and Black Sabbath, “The Slow Rush” sounds more to me likewhat might happen if Post Malone fronted The Flaming Lips and was produced by Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne.
Any comparison, however, doesn’t do Tame Impala justice. Parker’s real skill is in having the last 50 years of pop music motifs at his fingertips and being able to blend them in ways that not only sound great, but also sound wholly original. While “The Slow Rush” lacks some of the really great bombast of “Let it Happen,” It’s a very good record in its own right, showing a slight evolution of Parker’s songwriting and recording chops and still producing a very compelling and original work. It will likely be viewed as one of this year’s best records.
Key songs: “One More Year,” “On Track” “Is it True,” “Glimmer.”
Liner Notes is a regular column on music from an admittedly Gen X point of view. Feedback on the column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org