Tame Impala has nothing to do with Chevy or the domestication of antelopes, it is in fact one man, Kevin Parker, an Australian musician. Parker has made four albums under the pseudonym over the past ten years, the latest being The Slow Rush. It comes after a five year hiatus after his last album, Currents.
Currents saw Parker drifting towards a more simple, smooth direction and away from surprising experimentation. The tunes were catchy, psychedelic loops with lyrics that blew through your mind without much consequence. He hooked listeners with a spiraling guitar lick or synthesizer. Little in the way of the disconcerting or blood-pumping energy from songs like “Be Above It,” from his 2012 album, Lonerism, remained. On The Slow Rush, Parker, or perhaps Mr. Impala, follows the success of the vibe over experimentation.
While Currents delivered on its name in waves and rhythms of watery instrumentation, The Slow Rush fulfills its promise only in fragments. Sure, there are slow parts. On “Posthumous Forgiveness,” Parker chases after emotion in his lyrics, confronting an insufficient father. His own shyness about his voice also makes it nearly impossible to keep the lyrics in focus, even when they shine. “On Track” is sluggish, distinguished by its lack of the same drums featured in most of the album.
There are clear rushes as well, like how hurriedly put together songs like “Glimmer” must have been. There’s plenty of rushed writing on the love song “Instant Destiny.” Parker may choose to mask his voice with reverb and speak in a wispy monotone to cover lyrics like these, and I can’t blame him.
So psychedelia doesn’t always shine in wordiness, because mere words can’t capture the indefinable, right? We expect the stimulation through experimentation in sound, in the tradition of Pink Floyd’s “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast” or King Crimson’s “Larks’ Tongues.” Here’s where Parker seems to have lost his grasp on the tradition. While he certainly knows how to create a vibe and get a head bobbing, there were no moments where I wondered, “From what universe is this sound?” as I have listening to his previous albums. When the drums and bass kick up, so does the desire to start dancing on “Breathe Deeper.” Parker manages to douse his own fire with the repetition “… believe me, I can. Believe me, I can, believe me, I can,” until you want to knock your brain out against the wall just to get the refrain unstuck.
I can feel a flicker of light on “Tomorrow’s Dust” as he breaks from low intensity disco. The drums sound almost unsynthesized, and Parker is doing his thing. All music doesn’t have to leave us panting on our backs or wadding up fists and tissues full of tears. That being said, I’d like to be prodded or propelled sometimes. The Slow Rush channels the energy of an instructional video for flight safety. The stewardess goes through the motions, smiling incessantly but without joy, knowing that their performance makes little difference to anyone onboard.