Even after several repeated listens, I still have not been able to fully embrace Tame Impala’s latest album, Currents. With their previous efforts (Lonerism and Innerspeaker), each spin created a new favorite track, which speaks to the depth of each record. On the other hand, I think of Currents as one brilliant song followed by many decent-to-good tracks. But goddamn, how great is that one song?
At 7 minutes and 47 seconds, “Let It Happen” is the longest song in the Tame Impala catalog, but not by much; the band regularly traffics in songs that clock in at around five minutes, with a few running a bit longer at six and seven minutes. So, it is not just the fact that Tame Impala wrote a long song that is impressive, but that they wrote a long song that captivates the listener’s attention in such a way that they could make it the opening track and lead single for their new album. That takes a special skill.
For about three minutes, “Let It Happen” meshes a smooth bass groove, a glitchy funk guitar lick, and an insistent kick drum to create a chill yet catchy dance number. Kevin Parker then introduces a descending synth melody, and uses this new hook to seemingly signal that the song is about to fade out. As one anticipates the fade out, the track appears to skip, with a beat stuck in a repetitive loop. After a few seconds, the listener realizes this was done on purpose, as Parker throws in a rising string melody as a direct comment on the previous hook. This new melody is then put into a repetitive loop on its concluding beat, and after processing that beat through a few extra effects, the song returns to the previous descending synth melody once again. With the second repeating section, it almost as if the two melodies are locked in combat, with the original winning out in the end. The song then rides this last melody to the end, with a few additional touches.
Perhaps the best part is that once the listener knows what happens at the end of the song, it is possible to pick up on clues that appear in earlier sections. If one listens to the drums, one can notice that a few of the patterns have slight glitches or slight deviations, with other parts offering more overt clues as the song progresses. Not only does the song’s catchiness inspire repeated spins, but it rewards careful listening as well.
It has become increasingly rare for indie rock bands to break through into mainstream success, and a psychedelic record about the comforts of isolation is probably the unlikeliest candidate to accomplish the feat. Nevertheless, Lonerism became a hit and catapulted Tame Impala into the rarefied air of festival-headliners, and the pressure was on for Kevin Parker to see what he could accomplish next with his project. For Currents, Parker has seemingly ditched synth-like-guitars for actual synths, giving his explorations into 70’s-era psychedelia a slick 80’s sheen, an initially jarring juxtaposition that reveals itself over multiple listens to be a smart approach to evolving the band’s signature sound. The album does not provide the same gratifying pleasure of Lonerism, but Currents still provides an intriguing next step forward for Tame Impala.
The album kicks off with the absolutely stellar “Let It Happen”, a track that is a restless, pulsing, seven-and-a-half minute monster that is sure to be the highlight of any future Tame Impala live show. It not only is a perfect example of Parker’s studio wizardry, but it is a compositional masterpiece–“Let It Happen” effortlessly shifts from one idea to the next, but never comes across as meandering, even as it effectively stops, restarts, and reverses itself mid-song. While the song does an excellent job of not only setting the tone for the rest of the album, but preparing the listener for Tame Impala’s shift in style, it unfortunately overshadows everything else that follows.
Currents is a sonic marvel, and fans will deservedly pore over every note on the album. The incorporation of dance elements and Prince-inspired R&B was an inspired choice, and the production on the album makes it the most modern-sounding retro album possible. However, the album suffers from a saggy middle section, where compelling musical ideas are compromised by weak vocal melodies that fail to leave much of an impression. Despite these flaws, the album picks up in its second half when it finds the groove again in songs like “Disciples” and “Reality In Motion”.
It is clear that Currents is a deeply personal record, and Parker’s passion really shines through the entire work. Like other Tame Impala albums, it takes several listens to pick up on the nuances of Currents, but the music is fascinating enough on the surface that it never feels like a chore. At the moment, it may not be the equal of Lonerism or Innerspeaker, but as it stands Currents is a welcome addition to the band’s catalog.