Sound — 7
"Currents" is the third full-length from Australian group Tame Impala, brainchild of Kevin Parker. Despite only releasing three albums, Tame Impala has garnered a significant amount of attention in the press for their trippy, retro rock sound.
To start with, it is a bit of a twist from previous LP "Lonerism." Despite the band predominately being comprised of a more traditional rock setup on previous albums, the usual guitar/bass/drum/vocal/keys, "Currents" has gone very deep into the more electronic production first introduced on "Lonerism." There is barely a hint of traditional sounding guitar, the drums are hard to differentiate between live or samples and the overall sound has taken a look back at the late '70s where your parents were perhaps having ball-slapping sex and gone "where have you been my whole life?"
So, yes, it's perhaps, on the surface of things, a bit of a nosedive in terms of direction. But dig through a little bit and you'll hear a more self-assured, emotive record, one that basks in its clarity of narrative yet befuddles with its thickened, air-like musical backdrop.
There's a substantial amount of influence from the aforementioned '70s time period, in the vein of the jazz-influenced funk and pop of the era. One thing that's more immediate to notice is equal parts of the more primordial, nascent synthesis of the early '80s and the surprising depth and craftsmanship indicative of more modern producers. Blended together, it's a rather interesting concoction thanks to Kevin Parker's unique spin on building these electronic atmospheres.
Thing is, this overall sound has a significant issue of contention and not necessarily the personal sort. Its the lack of song variation. This isn't an immediately obvious problem but its about the consistency of feeling that an album gives you. What this album does is stick too rigidly to its core genre-blend: it's all trippy, synth pop, all the time, always. It's quite "safe" (when talking about the building blocks of musical composition) because all the elements are essentially the same and don't change and then THAT leads to things starting to blur together when listened from start to finish.
Sure, there's a few breather pieces here and there, "Gossip" and "Nangs" being the, personally speaking, notable ones. It's like one continuous train-of-thought with only three stops along the line, the drivers off his head on weed and the passengers are inhaling the fumes. Why is this also a "bad" thing, you might say? Depends on perspective, but one could argue that part of an albums true artistic merit comes from how much you can do with the tools you have, and this album does little with the amount of work put into it.
There's still some strong moments on the album between the mist of bitcrushers. "Nangs" is actually a surprisingly standout piece entirely for its chord patterns and pointlessly short length, "Yes I'm Changing" is significantly less blustery and much more introspective, lending a certain credibility and sincerity to the music. "Eventually" is a strange if brain-tickling blend of funk and Gnarls Barkley-ish vibes. Final track "New Person, Same Old Mistakes" is closer to Talib Kweli's style of ethereal backing track, but with real instruments, shock horror, and is probably one of the more complex songs on show, one that gives an actual close to the album and shows Parker's developed electronic production skill.
Lyrics — 6
Kevin Parker's singing voice is another matter, however. Basically sticking to the same style as on "Innerspeaker" but with perma-delay-verb on absolutely everything, his vocal tone is lost within itself, so it becomes more like another synthesizer rather an actual vocal projection. It doesn't help that his John Lennon-y tinge somehow moves away from it's familiarity present on "Innerspeaker" to this whining, mutated version of itself spawned entirely from the effect dabbling. Perhaps it's part of the experimentation associated with psychedelia and if that's the case, consider it an anomalous result. The few tracks that he gives his voice space on still suffer from that problem when they're not being crushed together between formless synth layers.
Lyrically, Parker has explained some of the concepts himself, such as "Eventually" being about the damage you might do to someone (in the narratives case, a broken heart), then hoping that they will be able to recover from it in the future. These are very specific topics and ideas but they're given a narrative perspective (another break-up relationship, la-de-da) that somehow becomes a bit broad or vague on detail. It's good that a lot of these plot points interlink on a song by song basis, despite their simplistic presentation but who needs meaningful prose in 4/4 dance jingles, right?
That being said, there's a sort of unintended honesty with the position Parker plays in his lyrical narrative, and that it's quite "me first," and at base, it shows how we can be hilariously selfish whether we apply altruism or not to the equation.
Overall Impression — 6
"Currents" wishes to be more than it is, however, it does, in a sense, give too much of itself to try and achieve this, being an obvious work of passion yet somehow not really leading to anything more. Look at it like this: It's often hailed as a big change to a band when they adopt electronic influence over a traditional setup after being noted for the latter, but in effect, what does that actually change? The aim of the musical composition on "Currents" remains the same as previous albums, just given this electronic "reinvention" of a sort. Complex as it is, the intended effect of the production doesn't quite work as well as the composition commands it to.
But it has other nagging problems, chief among which is the irksomeness of Parker's vocal performance miring his crafted lyrical concept and the other being that it's too consistent to be anything more than above average.
Songs to look out for: "Nangs," "The Moment," "Yes I'm Changing," "Past Life," "Reality in Motion," "New Person, Same Old Mistakes."