Psychedelia

Review: Tame Impala – Currents

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.

Review: Moon Duo – Shadow of the Sun

With their latest album Shadow of the Sun, Moon Duo takes the listener on a psychedelic journey whose thrills are often laced with a subtle menace.  Underneath the hazy guitars and bright keyboards, the band traffics in Krautrock-inspired motifs, with the recurring figures alternately grounding the songs and pushing them forward with an ever-insistent beat.  Though the constant repetition can have an overpowering effect of grinding down the listener if their attention is focused too much on the details, Shadow of the Sun is perfect background music for getting lost and zoning out.

Most of the songs revolve around a simple bouncy riff built atop the sparest of chord progressions; a catchy introductory melody ensnares the listener, but the lack of deviation creates an almost unbearable tension that can only be pierced by the addition of a new chord or a solo of some sort.  Moon Duo does a fantastic job of crafting specific melodies like the keyboard line in “Zero” that are seemingly self-contained but in fact keep the listener anticipating a true resolution.  However, the lack of a true conclusion to most of the songs works against the album as it often leaves the listener feeling unsatisfied.

Shadow of the Sun consistently evokes the work of Suicide, as each song is anchored by straightforward and persistent drumbeats that help give the impression of a dark undercurrent lurking beneath the surface.  The consistent repetition of simple patterns mirrors the mechanistic nature of the drum machines that help characterize Suicide, but Moon Duo distinguishes itself with the addition of live drummer John Jeffrey*, who helps add a touch of vitality to the music.  Other influences pop up as well, some more obvious than others.  One can easily hear the impact of the neo-psychedelic forays of The Dandy Warhols circa-Come Down, and a song like “Slow Down Low” is dominated by a vamp on a single chord that brings to mind the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray” so much that one could easily sing “I said I couldn’t hit it sideways” as it bounces merrily along.  The delicate “In a Cloud” helps break the potential for monotony on the album and is a welcome change of pace, but is also the source of the most unexpected connection of the album, as its simple two chord progression bears a striking resemblance to Grizzly Bear’s “Knife”; Moon Duo add enough of a personal touch of their own, but I did spend a large amount of time racking my brain trying to pin down where I had previously heard the melody.

Moon Duo does a great job of blending the elements of psychedelic drone and Krautrock repetition to create an overall heady experience.  However, Shadow of the Sun does not exactly stand up to strict scrutiny, as the repetition of only a handful of ideas and motifs can potentially bore the listener; the album works best when the band keeps the mood as light as possible, as in the lively opener “Wilding” or the energetic finale “Animal”.  Nevertheless, Moon Duo has crafted an album that is one of the more pleasant surprises of the year so far.

*His presence increases the number of members of the group to three, making their band name a complete lie; if they wanted to be more accurate, the band should be called Earth Trio.