Tame Impala: Sympathy For the Pedal

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When it comes to Tame Impala’s sound, even Kevin Parker sometimes finds it difficult to explain. There are moments when you’re asking your iPod whether a particular rhythm is a synth, a guitar or the Millennium Falcon. Today we have musicians that fully embrace the use of electronics and those who are utterly appalled at the idea (to some this may draw parallels to an older dichotomy; of that between musicians integrating drugs into their creative regime, and those remaining as sober as Mother Teresa at a baptism). This dispute is relevant today for many reasons, and that is why I’m citing Tame Impala, the brainchild of Australian songwriter Kevin Parker, as the perfect example of how to blend the spirit of the past with the technical accoutrements of the now.

For the last six months or so, every single time a friend of mine has uttered anything along the lines of ‘I need some new music to listen to’, Tame Impala has been my instant reaction. For those who have managed to go on without encountering either one of their two award-winning albums, Innerspeaker (2010) and Lonerism (2012) – and when we say awards here we are talking about Lonerism winning Album of the Year among the likes of NME and Triple J, with Rolling Stone going a step further by awarding the accolade to both of these records – they are a musical outfit that come from Perth. This isolated environment is one that many argue is fleshed out over the course of their hypnotic discography (and with the connotations of album titles like Lonerism it is easy to see where such allusions are born). They are a band that (according to their own website) makes ‘psychedelic hypno-groove melodic rock music’ and that, after only two albums, is taking the world’s stages by storm, as is evident by their displays this year at the Coachella, Glastonbury and Reading and Leeds Festivals.

The purpose of this article is not to simply indulge my own love for the waves of irresistible psychedelia that pour out of every Tame Impala piece, but to use their works to argue that the sounds of this talented ‘pothead pixie’ could well be where a lot of music is heading. In a culture that now operates by the mediums of instant gratification, with drive-in cashpoints, online shopping and ubiquitous songs about partying as if the apocalypse is upon us, music such as this is of vital importance. Of course, the idea that Tame Impala are to reverse all societal trends seems dramatic and ridiculous, and that is not what I’m alluding to. I’m stating that what Tame Impala do is brave, and it is paying off as their audience is growing faster than that of most bands on the planet.

One of the most interesting things about Lonerism is that it is supposedly written about the walk home after a party, not, as so much else is these days, about the party itself. This theme, amongst those of reflection and introspection, is channelled through extensive experimentation to conquer an arch-nemesis of creativity: expectation. When it comes to the construction and delivery of Parker’s 60s revivalist melodies not only is the marijuana-heavy fragrance of the Woodstock era pouring into our 21st century ears, but a plethora of critics have drawn comparisons between Tame Impala’s founder and none other than Mr. John Lennon. Although one could argue that this is a fairly farfetched idea, both maestros do indeed have a penchant for making music that expels boundaries, oozes of innovation and dances with one’s sensations. The way this techno-savvy ensemble plays around with its toys is comparable to the artistic dynamic of film-making. So many bands and filmmakers today are guilty of overproduction, getting excited by the arena of products with which to work. The best pieces of work, at least in my eyes, are those that only use the modern era’s highly technical produces when it is appropriate and not just for the sake of it. The matter of how many films and songs are ‘overproduced’ nowadays concerns, amongst other things, the commercialisation of art forms and even lies at the centre of pieces such as Dave Grohl’s debut motion picture ‘Sound City’. Today’s use of technology is an area of artistic contention everywhere.

Tame Impala work today because, apart from being very talented, they are not afraid. The music they make is unique by today’s standards when it comes to structure, execution and atmosphere, and a major reason being that band that embraces the myriad gadgets on offer to make a sound reminiscent of older times. You naturalists out there may say that this is an electronic wasteland trying to prance around as a genuine genre of music, and to that I say that Tame Impala are doing what others should take inspiration from. Over the course of their young and blossoming career they have consistently taken modern musical paraphernalia, the pedals, the synths and the vocal effects, and written music that could have been written in the late 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s. And, for me at least, this timeless aspect is a universal mark of music gone right. The song title ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ may well be referring to a personal relationship, but it embodies the spirit that Kevin Parker is revitalising in order to take his sound forward.

The award-winning second album Lonerism

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