Australia is a funny place for us Americans. When we think of Australia, we think of dingos, absurdly large knives, kangaroos, Ugg boots, shrimp on BBQs, men in khaki hunting crocodiles, and the systematic repression of native indigenous peoples (dammit Australia, that’s America’s thing! Get your own style and stop copying). Australia is “upside down” to us Americans, yet it never falls off the earth due to the miracle of something scientists call “gravity.” Wild, right?
Yet Australia is a lot more diverse and complex than many of us here in the states realize. They have the world’s strongest economy, the most productive telescope, and some pretty great bands, the greatest of which is currently Tame Impala.
Astute readers of THE BOMBER JACKET will remember me mentioning Tame Impala in my first ever article for this esteemed site. Turned on to them by a music exchange, I was immediately won over by their sound, a modern reinterpretation of Beatles-era psych, constructed from layers of guitar and cosmic wonder. Since that initial encounter, Tame Impala has been touring, growing, and recording. The fruits of their labor is collected in their new album, Lonerism. You’ve seen the hyper everywhere, and it is because the album is GOOD, okay? Let’s give it a listen, shall we?
We’ll start with the first track released off Lonerism, “Apocalypse Dreams.”
The part of me that’s always saying, “Hmmm, this sounds kinda like that…” can hear elements of the Beatles, Shins, Arcade Fire, Air, even a bit of Brian Eno. The part of me that treats every song as an individual entity hears a well crafted, synthed-up catchy gem, a fluid song full of swells and crashes, ripples and waves. Kevin Parker is able to throw in great hooks and poppy punch, yet still keeps the sound sufficiently ethereal and otherworldly. The track builds upon itself, transmuting and shifting before any element gets stale. Tame Impala is great at crafting songs like this, full of guitar overdub and shimmering, melodic lyrics.
Now let’s try the first single, (and strongest track on the album) “Elephant.”
This one is a monster. A rock-solid thumper, it could be the soundtrack to the lost “Dr.Who” meets Black Sabbath episode that never existed. “Elephant” has a classic sound, destined to be one of “those songs”–the songs that come to define a certain era and genre of music. If Tame Impala is still around ten years from now (and I certainly hope they are), this may be their “Freebird”: the classic song everyone wants to hear over and over. It grooves fiercely, combining a galloping beat with simple, quality lyrics that fit the music like legos. “He pulled the mirrors off his cadillac / because he doesn’t like it looking like he looks back / He talks like his opinion is a simple fact.” Way to paint a picture, Mr. Parker. I should also note that “Elephant” and “Apocalypse Dreams” are the only two songs co-authored by Jay Watson, who played drums, keyboard and guitar on the recorded album, but plays synth, backing vocals and guitar when Tame Impala plays live. I imagine we’ll all be hearing this track a bunch, and rightly so. Easily one of the top ten singles of the year. No, please don’t ask me to list all ten, I’d come up with 23 and a brainache.
“Okay RCE, you’ve told us about the two most well-known tracks on the album. Now what about the rest of it?”
Glad you asked, friend! The rest of Lonerism is a soothing space journey full of tracks ranging from good to pretty good to great. Lonerism feels like a direct progression from their last album, showcasing the band’s confidence and experience. It is undoubtedly Tame Impala’s finest work thus far–innovative and charming while continuing to establish the Tame Impala sound. Listening to the whole album in one sitting, the songs certainly blend into one another, making the experience feel more like floating through a sonic landscape for an hour, compared to the sometimes-very-disparate tracks of a “traditional” album. That the tracks on Lonerism tend to sound similar isn’t a bad thing, and isn’t meant to imply that there’s not a great deal of variation in sounds and ideas on the album. There is. It just means that all the songs are more like different subspecies of the same animal family, rather than different animals altogether. Multi-colored elephants, if you will, of varying shapes and sizes.
“Keep On Lying“
Sure, I could post up a video of “Feels Like I Only Go Backwards,” the second single off the album, but I like “Keep On Lying” better. You can hear a recording of people at a party in this song, taken with Parker’s dictaphone, which he uses a bunch while he’s out and about to collect interesting sounds. Many make it on to the album. You’ll hear some more collected sounds in the tracks “Be Above It” and “Sun’s Coming Up.” “Keep On Lying” keeps things simple with a good chorus and a poppy feel, dictated by a less complicated rhythm guitar progression and marching beat that evolve into an all-out psych-shred later in the song. Some of the other dig-worthy tracks?
“Music To Walk Home By” has a Steve Miller band-esque opening that rapidly gets better. Trademark Tame Impala guitars with spacey flourishes, this track could easily fall into a playlist.
“Mind Mischief” Is a bluesy lament to lack of direction, where the connection to a certain British band feels stronger than ever. Once the nitrous gets pumped into this track, it starts to get wilder, but is still about as straight ahead as a Tame Impala track gets.
“Be Above It” is the first song of the album, and begins with the chant “Gotta be above it” which continues throughout the song. It feels more like part of a song than a completed piece. It may be good to jog to. I wouldn’t know, because I jog about as much as I waterski, which is not so much.
This track? Damn fine. Love the jam near the end, the creepy but charming piano line. And props for being able to actually sing this sentence in a song and make it sound good. Tame Impala, they have a way of making all their lyrics sound pretty good. Must be an Australian thing.
When you buy this album, you’ll want to get the Deluxe Edition on 7″ vinyl. Why, you may ask? Because that’s the only version with the two extra bonus tracks, “Led Zeppelin” and “Beverly Laurel.” (Sure, you can get Led Zeppelin as a bonus iTunes track as well, but the band makes more money from the vinyl, and vinyl is just better. This album is worth listening to on vinyl, trust me.) It would be a shame to be left without these two tracks. “Beverly Laurel” sounds more like MGMT than anything else on the album, and it’s a good thing. “Led Zeppelin,” as you may have already gleaned, is a tribute to one of the all-time classic guitar god bands. Here’s hoping “Black Sabbath” makes it on to the next album.
Lonerism is a grower album that deserves repeated listens. Every time I’ve let the album play through, I’ve heard something I missed the last time. The songs each have so many changes and progressions, eliminating repetitiveness. Lonerism is a thoroughly impressive album from a young indie band poised for international acclaim. Sit down, make yourself a nice Vegimite sandwich, and give it a listen. That’s not a knife in your pocket.