Review: Tame Impala’s “Lonerism” Adds Spice to Classic Rock ‘n’ Roll

Tame Impala performed at Union Transfer earlier this month in a concert that got me hooked on the band. The band’s rise in popularity has been swift; in just a few short years, they have stampeded onto rock music’s stage. At the concert, a local bartender standing next to me told me that he saw Tame Impala live in a church basement venue two years ago. When the lead singer Kevin Parker said that he and his band weren’t used to playing venues as large as Union Transfer, the bartender screamed “better than a church basement!!!” The bartender points out the rapid growth of this band in just a short two years.

I remembered when I first heard of the band last summer. I checked out their brilliant 2010 album Innerspeaker. I instantly fell in love with the song “Solitude is Bliss,” with its sharp, go-with-the-flow guitar hook playing throughout. The emotion I felt during this album, with gems like “Lucidity” and “Desire Be Desire Go,” was a confidence emanating from the self, without any reliance on the approval of others. However, the emotion I feel from listening to 2012’s Lonerism is more anxiety based, almost as if the attitude espoused by Innerspeaker isn’t working.

Though Tame Impala is frequently compared to a modern, indie psychedelic take of the Beatles, and though Kevin Parker is surely no John Lennon, his voice does merit the comparisons. The album Lonerism, however, has catapulted them into indie stardom. The praise they have earned is certainly warranted. Lonerism on the whole has slow songs with frothy synths that are anxiety-ridden and provoke introspection, and also has fast songs that feel like they are charging at you compelling you to join the herd, as felt by unceasing guitar chords and confident lyrics. This emotional diversity on the album gives it the feel of a more complete album; that in combination with Parker’s distinct voice, progressive rock effects, distinct rhythms, and creative melodies makes a gripping album on isolation.

The album starts out with the upbeat “Be Above It.” The song is driven on by the keyboardist, who utters the phrase “I gotta be above it” throughout. When Parker’s voice comes in, the magic starts, as a weirdly oscillating, booming guitar chord plays after his line. The chord changes the dynamic of the song each time it is played throughout, almost like it is a DJ’s hand moving the song back and forth like a vinyl. The next song, “Endors Toi,” is similar to “Be Above It” in that it is instrumental driven, and races very quickly to the tune of marching distorted guitar chords.

“Apocalypse Dreams,” perhaps the most fully realized track on the album, revels in uncertainty and a feeling of awe as you realize you don’t have control over anything. Parker sings slowly “Everything is changing, and there’s nothing I can do.” It is the first epic of the album, and the most complete song. Upbeat verses, like our fast-paced lives, lead to introspective pauses which Parker uses to reflect. This reflection leads to anxiety, as we hear in the “Everything is changing” line. This is the point of the song where social anxiety begins to replace the confidence of the previous album, and the theme inherent in the album title starts to come into play.

This social anxiety sentiment is further repeated on both “Why Won’t They Talk to Me” and “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.” The former is one of the more electronically stripped songs on the album. Droning synths in the background lay the groundwork for the saddest song on the album, where Parker sings in a vulnerable but strong voice about social anxiety. He says “I don’t need them and they don’t need me,” and later says “Why won’t they talk to me? I thought I was happy.” This song perfectly captures the feeling that sometimes we think we have it all figured out, but sometimes it just takes some negative experience to unravel our happiness and makes us think about how we live our lives.

“Why Won’t They Talk to Me” also sets the scene for the song “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.” It is a very lax song, with its frothy keyboards and its seemingly on-repeat chorus; but somehow something new is being said with each chorus, whether it be changing the keyboard chord pattern or the bass line. Throughout the song is the emotion of the helplessness of trying to move on with your life but only feeling like you move in the opposite direction evident, exemplified by the song’s title.

However, the album takes a turn with the song “Elephant,” which is much more confident and upbeat. The thunderous “D” guitar chord marching over the course of the song mirrors the stomping of an elephant, and makes all of the emotional struggles throughout the album seem worth going through. The song also bursts into an all-out Kevin Parker guitar solo that encapsulates the inventiveness of the album as a whole. The guitar sings out with its own voice and runs free as the synthesizers keep the beat moving forward.

Perhaps the best parts of the album, though, are the humorous yet deliberate little things Parker does. For example, the seemingly random pause in the middle of “Apocalypse Dreams” and the “Yeahs!” in Elephant. These quirks are something special, because while the album carries a serious tone throughout, it is nice to know that the band doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Tame Impala take relatively simple but creative synth and guitar chord progressions and pair them with stampeding drums, a strong and distinct voice, and numerous electronic effects, to create complex songs that are true to their simple rhythms. The songs put a modern edge on psych-rock by taking all of these strong, forceful components and mashing them together, creating a chaos that is both a challenge and delight to listen to. Tame Impala warrants a listen. Or two. Or twenty. These Aussies don’t disappoint.

Photo courtesy of pitchfork.com


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15 comments

  1. 0
    You must be kidding me. says:

    I can’t believe you recommended this album. You know it’s horribly racist right? Just look at the clouds on the album cover for God’s sake.

      1. 0
        You must be kidding me. says:

        I really should have clarified, it’s Nazi propaganda not just racist. I mentioned the clouds as an obvious example because the album cover is a famous shot from Leni Riefenstahl’s Victory of Faith which of course inspired Joseph Goebbels to make the comment that he wished for a world where the clouds would part on a world free of lesser peoples (Jews, blacks, cripples ect.) The clouds are just visible in the album cover as they are dissipating which suggests that this is a world post final solution. This is supported by the lack of any people of color among the people on the grass. This is not the end of the Nazi propaganda that has infiltrated its way into this album. The song Sun’s coming up is filled with allusions to the most violent sections of Mein Kampf where Hitler lavishes detail on his desire to murder all Africans. Instead of this being a subtle rebellion against these hate filled doctrines one can clearly tell they are being supported by the repeated half second pauses in between the second and third words of the lines in the songs which is exactly what Hitler used so effectively in his speeches. Kevin Parker is attempting to become Hitler and thus usher in a new age of oppression and hatred.
        As a frequent victim of both systemic and subjective violence throughout my life I am horrified that the news paper would publish a review of such an evil album. I have spent so long trying to feel safe where I life and now I realize I cannot be safe here because all around me there are people glorifying Nazis. I hope you’re proud Billy because just when I thought I found a home you took it from me.

        1. 0
          Uh says:

          “the album cover is a famous shot from Leni Riefenstahl’s Victory of Faith”

          … guy sitting right in front of the gate in a lawn chair showing leg. Ima say not 1940s.

          1. 0
            You must be kidding me. says:

            @anz
            Of course the shot is not directly lifted from the movie (the movie is in black and white). I am aware that he took the shot but it is an obvious reference to the movie. And of course he is not going to openly admit that the cover is Nazi propaganda so his public “explanation” has no meaning to me.

        2. 0
          steve says:

          man, you have lost it. do you seriously believe what you are saying? i mean, holy shit. kevin parker simply happened to be at that location and thought that the shot from behind the fence looking upon the happenings going on on the other side was symbolic of the ‘loner’ theme of the album. and i accidentally liked your post when attempting to dislike it, so don’t think that people are supporting your irrational-ass opinion.

          1. 0
            You must be kidding me. says:

            The shot is an exact replica of a shot from Victory of Faith. You expect Kevin Parker to tell the world that he is a Nazi? I don’t care how he explains it to the media, the facts are there. I’m disappointed but not surprised at the hostile tone of your comment. It’s clear from the content of your comment that you have never experienced oppression and marginalization otherwise you would not be so insensitive. How can you say my pain is not real? This review is a product and culmination of the micro racism that I have to deal with every day and on the whole makes me feel uncomfortable, unsafe and vilified for being the way I was born. Most people are embarrassed by their lack of understanding but you seem to wear it like a badge of honor. Just be thankful that you haven’t had a life that would cause you to be sensitive to the inherent violence of this album. I know free speech is important, but at what cost? How can you live with perpetuating symbolic violence in the highest and most destructive degree. I think it’s horrible that is up to us, the victims, to rise above the hatred but as much as I’m sure it upsets you Steve, we will. I will not be ashamed of who I am no matter what Kevin Parker, Billy Lennon, or you have to say.

  2. 0
    Jena Gilbert says:

    This album is a really delightful listen — thanks for the recommendation! I don’t know this band too well, so I wouldn’t have given it much thought otherwise, but I really dig it.

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