Sound — 9
On Tame Impala's first record "Innerspeaker", Kevin Parker (lead singer/songwriter) captured a sound very similar to John Lennon's best songs from "Sgt. Pepper's" through "Abbey Road", except Parker's songs are heavier, more layered, and, unsurprisingly, more modern sounding. The Beatles are one of the most definitive bands of rock n' roll, and so it's easy to hear Tame Impala, make that connection, and excuse them as just a copycat. It's because of Kevin Parker's voice: he sounds a lot like John Lennon, but how can you blame the guy? It is ideal for the music he plays. That vocal connection to The Beatles is unchanged on "Lonerism". I don't want to say "Lonerism" sounds exactly like "Innerspeaker" but neither do I want to say "Lonerism" doesn't sound like "Innerspeaker", and this is the sophomore album, so I don't expect the formula to change too much from the debut album. In interviews I've seen with Parker, he says he created these new songs with an indulgence for pop melodies and structures. So, you could say "Lonerism" is psychedelic dream pop or maybe even Australian kaleidoscope shoe-gazer rock. There are various musical influences at play on this record. While The Beatles' influences were limited to Elvis Presely, Blues, and Jazz, Parker writes music in an era after metal, electronica, and grunge/alternative rock have all broken into the mainstream one way or another. And that's apparent when listening to "Lonerism". The opener "Be Above It" is an unexpected change from "Innerspeaker" with its guitar driven songs to, now, a relentless drum beat that carries the entire song along with the same rhythm. It even sounds like Tame Impala is beatboxing since "gotta-be-above-it" is repeated quickly along with the drums through the whole song. But it stays in that dream rock realm because of interspersed guitar slashes, bass, and keys flushed with plenty of effects and Parker's echoing voice. The layers of sound are abound. Then the album's second track recalls that trippy yet smooth, layered sound from "Innerspeaker". The sound on this track and the sound of the whole album really shine. The keyboards shine all the way through "Endors Toi" with Parker's ghostly Lennon voice and powerful guitar solos and bass lines. The psychedelic keys and high electronic noise in the background is pleasantly contrasted with the deep bass and distinct guitar work. The third track, "Apocalypse Dreams", slows it down with a clearer piano presence, steady bass beat, and simple drum setup. I think this song sounds the most similar to "Innerspeaker" as it sounds epic and less poppy from the other songs on "Lonerism". The layers of sound, again, build up to the end and the tone becomes slightly changed. "Mind Mischief" has a catchy riff that sounds fun and easy to tap your foot to, which I attribute to the funky drums behind all the guitar effects and layered vocals. The drums on this album are essential to its pop sound. I would argue that the most poppy song on the album is "Music To Walk Home By" and almost the most electronic song with the synthesizers and effects throughout. The next song, "Why Won't They Talk To Me", is keen on The Beatles influence with the simple sturdy drum hits, layered high vocals, and acoustic guitar. "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" starts with a serious bass riff but then slowly explodes into a lazy mantra blended with R&B and Reggae. The 60s tone sustains with the fade-in track "Keep On Lying", which could be compared to early Pink Floyd. Then the first single from the album, "Elephant", (track 9) shakes up all the dreamy vibes and relaxed comfort resting between all the layers of sound. It is heavy, deliberate, and fast almost like, dare I say, Black Sabbath. This song is the only one that could be considered dark or darker sounding. It rocks along hard as if an army was marching to it. It is one of my favourite tracks on the album; it really stands out from the rest. I note Black Sabbath on this track because of the guitar solos and bass at the end that remind me of "Snowblind" or really just "Black Sabbath, Vol. 4" in general. The following track, "She Just Won't Believe Me" is more loose and unfocused mainly consisting of synthesizers, unbridled effects and a random mix of vocals, and it's rather short at 58 seconds. The eleventh track, "Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Can Control", then focuses all the psychedelia into a slow floaty song with Parker's vocals very high and light. His voice becomes soothing and soft and acts more like an ambient instrument than a voice singing lyrics. A little more than minute in, the song calms down and a quiet conversation between two people comes in with the accompanying jungle-like drums and and shining keyboard sounds. The song ends with heavy solos by the bass and a crazy synthesizer that sounds like a spaceship. This track gets sci-fi sounding. This track is another gem on the album. The album ends on "Sun's Coming Up", which is the only track I didn't care for. Parker strips all the layers and the song is half of just him and a piano and then the the other half is just a guitar solo with a wah effect. When listening to the piano part of this song, I can't help but to think of The Beatles' "You Never Give Me Your Money" or "A Day In The Life" and, suddenly, Parker's voice doesn't sound that great. The song is an odd end to the album, but it closes pleasantly with a lone guitar reverberating sound deep in the wah effect. Overall, this album is a perfect hybrid of psychedelic rock and catchy pop music. The sound is not very challenging or intricate or tremendous like Yes or Pink Floyd, but it is awesome, radical, and a fun/energetic listen.
Lyrics — 8
The lyrics seem to continue with the sentiment from the "Innerspeaker" power single, "Solitude Is Bliss". A lyric from that song says, "There's a party in my head, and no one is invited." This message seems to be the theme of "Lonerism". The title "Lonerism" itself should give that away. "Lonerism" was made with strong pop underpinnings, so, like other pop records, don't expect to find any prophetic lyrics or words of wisdom. But Parker does seem to be advocating for or encouraging a lifestyle apart from others and the hustle and bustle of modern life. This is another reason Tame Impala sounds like it's music from 60s counter-culture, which was all about the detachment from the mainstream system and freedom of expression. On the first track, "Be Above It", Parker sings, "And I know that I can't let them bring me down / And I gotta bide my time as a face in the crowd / And I know that I gotta be above it now," and this shows he obviously prefers the unique space in his mind over the workings of society and all those other people out there in the world. This loner life continues on "Why Won't They Talk To Me", as he says, "I don't need them / And they don't need me / I guess I'll go home / Try to be sane." He likes to see himself above or outside of society, but he doesn't look down upon them but just acknowledges society's chaos and aimless existence from the side lines. The lyrics are light-hearted, lazy, and fun. Parker is having a blast on this album with all the pop beats and the lyrics compliment the sound with songs about watching life pass you by, spontaneous relationships, and having no responsibility for the things that happen around you. The song with the most serious outlook on these feelings may be "Apocalypse Dreams" as Parker sings, "Everything is changing / And there's nothing I can do / My world is turning pages / While I am just sitting here." It almost sounds like he's starting to question his apathy towards the rest of the world, but ultimately he forgets this idea since the rest of the album is cheerful and ignorant to intellectual lyrics or meanings. You get lost in the album's sound and contextual layers, and the lyrics are all about getting lost and not caring about getting lost. Do what you want and don't be afraid to chill out every moment of your life.
Overall Impression — 7
Tame Impala has been embraced by the Indie music scene and praised by big reviewers/critics like Pitchfork Media. I see them in relation to other newer bands like Grizzly Bear, Ty Segall, Deerhunter, or MGMT, but Tame Impala sounds much different from any of these bands. Tame Impala sounds more like The Beatles and British pop rock, but the heavy, layered, and fast feel of their songs sets them apart from their obvious influences. The mixture of sounds in their songs, ranging from psychedelia to electronica, keeps them unique and fresh with The Beatles/60s vibe. I know this album was written with pop melodies, and that being said, I can see myself playing this album into the ground. That is, it's so catchy and fun to play that I could play this album so much that I will eventually hate it. That hasn't happened yet, so cross your fingers. I don't think of this album as transcendent or mind-blowing, but it can help you transcend boredom and dullness with its endlessly fun sound. It's easy to groove/dance/skank to, and it also fits in well when you're just hanging around or chilling out. It makes you careless and not worried with what's going on outside. The layers of sound and effects and Parker's cool vocals keep you lost and relaxed in the music of "Lonerism". My favourite songs are "Apocalypse Dreams", "Why Won't They Talk To Me", "Elephant", and "Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Can Control". I'm very excited as to how Parker will tweak Tame Impala's sound even further on their third album (whenever that comes out), but "Lonerism" is a solid record through and through. Each track is easy to get into and easy to get lost in with all the layered psychedelia and catchy melodies. This album shows me that today's music does possess some vibrant rock n' roll groups that recall the great sounds of the past but also bring them up to speed through production and the meshing of different genres of pop music. Parker created an album that captures a life of his described "lonerism" and careless fun. It's a nice time warp and escape from intellectual hipster indie rock bands that plague the rock scene today and all the mindless metal bands that seem to be in opposition to the indie scene while also being stuck in their uninteresting metal sound that got fully explored by Metallica back in the 1980s. "Lonerism" is also a fresh look at 60s pop rock and gives off a more potent nostalgia than what the many reunited 90s bands are trying to do now. In summary, "Lonerism" is an excellent trip of radical sound and dreamy lyrics.