By Cade Hollingsworth
“Currents” is the third full-length album released by Australian psychedelic rock band Tame Impala. A far cry from The Doors and The Grateful Dead, “Currents” displays a diverse blend of genres and sounds that have defined the sound of psyche-rock in the 2010’s.
Fueled by the emotional energy of a breakup, front-man Kevin Parker wrote, recorded, performed, and produced the record in his home studio in Western Australia. This was a departure from the band’s previous efforts, where they asserted less creative control. Parker said that “This way the album is even more my heart and soul — my blood, sweat, and tears.”
At its core, “Currents” is an album of change. And Parker doesn’t hide his intentions, with the track “Yes I’m Changing.” Upon listening, it’s obvious that Currents isn’t attempting to stick to the roots of the psychedelic genre. Absent are the familiar guitar melodies and textures, instead replaced with glitchy synthesizer patches. When the guitar is heard, it sounds dreamy and bleeds into a sea of synthesized drum beats and sweet dance-pop melodies.
The opening track, “Let It Happen,” is an eight-minute journey of dreamy vocals and endless repeating melodies. The song devolves into a passage where it sounds like a half second loop is accidentally stuck on repeat and ultimately climaxes in something that that approaches EDM. Immediately in the first track, Parker redefines the band’s sound to encompass a kind of psyche-disco hybrid whose closest modern analog is Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.
The near absence of guitars from the record means that there are major structural changes on the album. There’s nothing like the guitar-heavy hit “Elephant” from the band’s previous album. Instead, Parker relies on his expertly mixed bass and drums for the songs’ melodic framework, giving each song a hard-hitting head-bobbing feel. The bass, not the guitar, does the album’s heavy lifting. This technique shows on songs like “The Moment” and the album’s biggest hit: “The Less I Know The Better."
Using the sounds of Funk and R&B, Parker pushed Currents and the whole psychedelic genre into unknown territory. Just as irreverent with the elements of R&B as he was with rock,
Parker’s sound brings to mind The Weeknd just as much as Pink Floyd. He manages to take sounds from other genres into his fold and give them a dreamy psychedelic twist. The album utilizes the past as influence and for nostalgia in the sepia-toned “Disciples”, which is a sweet 2 minutes of blaring twisting synth drones which cut through Parker’s faded falsetto. This combination of the old and modern makes Parker sound like both a DJ and a rockstar.
Track 5, “Eventually” expertly blends these genres to create what is easily a break-up song. "I know that I'll be happier/ And I know you will, too," he repeats in the ever building chorus, pausing just long enough before adding the title phrase. Eventually. It's the hope the word contains, potentially false, that makes it devastating. The song ends in a breakdown of blaring synthesizers which fade into the future.
Currents was released in July 2015 to critical acclaim. The album scored “universal acclaim” on Metacritic and earned a 9.3 from Pitchfork. In addition, the album was added to Pitchfork’s “Best New Music” list, in good company with other genre defining albums like Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and Radiohead’s “Kid A”. Spin's Harley Brown called it "the purest — and most complex — distillation of everything that makes the band such a nearly physical pleasure to listen to." Brown added, "The real magic of Currents, though, is in how Parker so effectively manipulates the listener's emotions without necessarily revealing any himself."
Despite this, Parker still called the album “unlistenable” and it was delayed for several months as he became obsessed with minor imperfections in his work. In the end he was most self-conscious about his lyrics, doubting their sincerity.
On Kevin Parker’s latest effort, he figured out how to use what’s come before him without any anxiety about his ability to make it modern. Even if his explorations only get him as far as his next song, it’s a trip worth taking.