Tame Impala – The sluggish eight.0

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For Kevin Parker, perfectionism is a lonely thing. The fastidious Tame Impala mastermind often copes with his self-isolation and doubt through stonerisms, highly portable mantras like “let it happen” and “yes I’m changing” and “gotta be above it” (said three times fast to ward off bad vibes). Their inverse is the negativity Parker’s trying to keep at bay in his head: “It feels like we only go backwards,” “But you’ll make the same old mistakes,” “You will never come close to how I feel.” It is easy to get lost in all the layers of groovy, time-traveling technicolor surround sound, particularly because Parker isn’t really trying to be clever or literary, but the internal tug of war within the Australian musician’s lyrics—between trying to better yourself and stay present, or succumbing to your own worst thoughts—is part of what keeps fans faithfully returning to Tame’s three albums, perhaps subconsciously. The repetition of phrases pairs well with the dubby, trance-like aspects of the music. Think of it as psychedelia for people with meditation apps and vape pens: Instead of opening your mind, you’re just trying to silence it.

On Tame Impala’s fourth album, Parker addresses the eternal enemy of perfectionists everywhere: time. He struggled with it himself, considering The Slow Rush arrives five years after Currents, the album that made his one-man band more famous than he could’ve imagined. Parker has toured arenas, headlined mega-festivals, worked with Travis Scott and Kanye West, more or less ditched the skinny scarves, and had the rare honor of being covered by Rihanna (and making her dance like this). He intended to release The Slow Rush just before headlining Coachella last April, but he didn’t feel like it was ready yet. You could sense that flux in the album rollout: First single “Patience” hinted at a yacht-rock direction but ultimately didn’t make the cut; second single “Borderline” was trimmed and beefed up for the LP; and the whole thing was remastered following a November 2019 listening party, where he couldn’t stop noticing things he wanted to tweak. Given time, Parker will tinker.

About Impala
The impala (, Aepyceros melampus) is a medium-sized antelope found in eastern and southern Africa. The sole member of the genus Aepyceros, it was first described to European audiences by German zoologist Hinrich Lichtenstein in 1812. Two subspecies are recognised—the common impala, and the larger and darker black-faced impala. The impala reaches 70–92 centimetres (28–36 inches) at the shoulder and weighs 40–76 kg (88–168 lb). It features a glossy, reddish brown coat. The male’s slender, lyre-shaped horns are 45–92 centimetres (18–36 inches) long.
Active mainly during the day, the impala may be gregarious or territorial depending upon the climate and geography. Three distinct social groups can be observed: the territorial males, bachelor herds and female herds. The impala is known for two characteristic leaps that constitute an anti-predator strategy. Browsers as well as grazers, impala feed on monocots, dicots, forbs, fruits and acacia pods (whenever available). An annual, three-week-long rut takes place toward the end of the wet season, typically in May. Rutting males fight over dominance, and the victorious male courts female in oestrus. Gestation lasts six to seven months, following which a single calf is born and immediately concealed in cover. Calves are suckled for four to six months; young males—forced out of the all-female groups—join bachelor herds, while females may stay back.
The impala is found in woodlands and sometimes on the interface (ecotone) between woodlands and savannahs; it inhabits places close to water. While the black-faced impala is confined to southwestern Angola and Kaokoland in northwestern Namibia, the common impala is widespread across its range and has been reintroduced in Gabon and southern Africa. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the impala as a species of least concern; the black-faced subspecies has been classified as a vulnerable species, with less than 1,000 individuals remaining in the wild as of 2008.

Tame Impala : The Slow Rush | 8.0

Clearly, all the tinkering paid off. The Slow Rush is an extraordinarily detailed opus whose influences reach into specific corners of the past six decades, from Philly soul and early prog to acid house, adult-contemporary RB, and Late Registration. I have to marvel that all this sound and history comes from Parker alone, picking every string and twisting every knob. He’s always used strong melodies and riffs to anchor his more unconventional structures, but there seems to have been a slight shift in perspective: Working with hip-hop producers got him thinking more about samples—how they unite music of different eras and genres under one roof.

But Parker, with his vast knowledge of tools and techniques, doesn’t need to sample—he creates the kind of music that other people like to sample. He can make his own instrumental loops that sound like Daryl Hall (the bittersweet keyboard in “On Track”), or Jimmy Page (the riff throughout the first part of “Posthumous Forgiveness”), or Quincy Jones (the “Ironside”-esque siren that lends panic in “It Might Be Time,” an ode to feeling washed). You might think you recognize the acoustic riff circling early-’70s soul-cruiser “Tomorrow’s Dust,” or the ascendant piano line in the ’90s-via-the-’70s RB jam “Breathe Deeper,” but what you are most likely hearing is Parker’s gift for crafting classic parts.

Tame Impala : The Slow Rush | 8.0

This “sampled but not” sensibility, along with Parker’s constant use of boom-bap-style drums, is one of the ways that Tame Impala makes rock music that feels in conversation with hip-hop. And while Parker employs more acoustic instrumentation here than on Currents, The Slow Rush is also shot through with the effortless pulse of house music—the kind of grooves that dare you not to dance. On the kinetic opener “One More Year,” the record’s initial beat sneaks up from behind a robot chorus with a tremolo effect and doesn’t let up until everyone’s had a chance to strut and pose through the bass and conga breakdowns, and Parker’s made his little coach’s speech (“We got a whole year! 52 weeks! Seven days each…”).

This is a decidedly more upbeat Parker. There’s another person firmly in the frame with him now, an implied “we” as the newly wed Parker sees the next 50-ish years spread out in front of him—imagining kids, coming to terms with the choices he’s made, the whole bit. The Slow Rush seems to work from the present forward, maintaining the “fuck it, let’s do this” energy of “One More Year” with “Instant Destiny,” a swirling start-stop of a victory lap where he threatens to do something crazy, like buy a house in Miami. Almost immediately he regrets his impulses: “Gone a little far,” starts “Borderline,” with its mournful keyboards. Later, on a sentimental semi-ballad about keeping pace (“On Track”), he seems to wonder if that purchase is such a good idea: “Babe, can we afford this?” Parker toggles between positive and negative thoughts as usual, but at least he sounds like he’s genuinely having some fun.

The worst you can say for The Slow Rush is that when you offer multipart epics on multipart epics, you’re bound to have some sections that feel less crucial by comparison. “Posthumous Forgiveness” and “Tomorrow’s Dust” both go on a passage or two longer than they should. The falsetto-led melody that opens early-album victory lap, “Instant Destiny,” feels incessant and cloistered until the song opens up a bit, thanks in part to a luxe xylophone break. “Lost in Yesterday” tries to edge up an aggressively beachy vibe with Daft Punk vocals and dub effects, and ends up feeling a little dated; then again, I could see it killing at all those big festivals the band will headline over the next few years.

Parker may want to be a Max Martin type in another facet of his career, but in his own band, he’s still the same sonic-maximalist introvert searching for inner peace. He seems to locate it in the quietest moments of the album’s show-stopping seven-minute closer, “One More Hour.” “As long as I can, as long as I can spend some time alone,” he sings atop steady piano chords, the barest he’s sounded all record (and still drowning in echo). Suddenly there are tense, fluttering strings and an apocalyptic, heavily phased guitar, then another gnarly riff, crashing drums, and Moog synths firing in all directions. The effect is something like multiple YouTube videos accidentally playing at once, a restless mind making gorgeous chaos—the work of a true perfectionist.


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