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The new vanguards of modern psychedelia

Australia’s trippy band, Tame Impala, has been called the 'hipster Pink Floyd'. Their music is a heady cocktail of pop and prog-rock that hold fans and critics in thrall

Kevin Parker of Tame Impala performing in Detroit in July.
Kevin Parker of Tame Impala performing in Detroit in July. (Photo: Getty Images)

You could call the Australian multi-instrumentalist, singer and composer Kevin Parker, 33, a one-man band. On the three full-length albums by his musical project (or, if you like, “band"), Tame Impala, nearly all the instruments are played by Parker; he composes all the music, writes and sings all the songs, and conceives and influences the artwork. When Tame Impala’s debut album, Innerspeaker, came out in 2010, it quickly found favour among stoners, who usually form the core audience for psychedelic rock, and also earned instant plaudits from music critics across the world. Tame Impala’s music has a uniquely expansive soundscape, with shimmering guitar solos interplaying with synths, against a cohesively solid rhythm section provided by deep basslines and drums.

When Parker gets his band to perform live, he plays the lead guitar and sings but hires additional musicians to play the other instruments and execute his meticulously composed music. A Tame Impala live show is designed to fill arenas, which the band does routinely, and it is like a multimedia show where high technology-fuelled light and laser shows complement the band’s sweeping, swirling sound—a delectable treat for fans of psychedelic music. Last summer, at a show in northern Europe, the audience was mesmerized by the Australian band’s gig, where the set of 16 songs flowed impeccably from one to the other and the light show was giddily trippy. Their shows are so immersive and mind-expanding that Britain’s New Musical Express magazine recently dubbed them a band that is “truly becoming the hipster Pink Floyd".

But Tame Impala’s music is so dynamic that it can be difficult to classify. If Innerspeaker was an album drenched in guitar solos, their second effort, Lonerism (2012), shifted the weightage of the music to synths, incorporating even more experimentation and expansion. And on their third album, Currents (2015), the band kept the sound synthesizer-heavy but also added the idiom of other genres such as R&B and disco. Yet, Tame Impala’s sonic signature—expansive, highly stereophonic and immersive—prevails on all their three studio albums. When they perform live, usually at vast, sold-out venues, those attributes are seemingly impossibly heightened. It’s difficult not to dance or sway and get lost in the music when Tame Impala unleash their songs with a sound that is (paradoxically) complex and pop-sounding at the same time.

Next month, on Valentine’s Day, Tame Impala will be releasing their highly anticipated fourth studio album, The Slow Rush. And fans of their deeply progressive psychedelia can’t wait. That’s partly because Parker has been teasing his fans by releasing singles all through 2019, some of which could feature on the album. And on 8 January, he released Lost In Yesterday, a nostalgia-soaked track that will be on the album too. Parker has a gentle, soft style of singing that seems ethereal. Yet, his lyrics are meaningful. In Lost In Yesterday, he sings: When we were livin’ in squalor, wasn’t it Heaven?/ Back when we used to get on it four out of seven/ Now even though that was a time I hated from day one/ Eventually, terrible memories turn into great ones.

But Tame Impala’s true appeal is in the music that Parker composes. He and bassist Dominic Simper (he has played on Innerspeaker) were barely in their teens when they formed the band in Perth. Beginning with DIY efforts of recording their music at home, they used the then popular-among-musicians social network site MySpace as a launching pad. Their psychedelic, retro sound soon caught the eye of labels and many of them showed interest. In 2008, they released their first EP and, within two years, the first full-length.

The thing that got (and still gets) Tame Impala noticed was the fact that they didn’t sound like any of their peers, including other contemporary bands that deliver psychedelic, progressive rock. Tame Impala’s music is easily accessible, not least because of the pop sensibility that Parker infuses into his compositions. Pop hooks ensure that more people, including those who aren’t normally fans of psychedelia, notice the band and, more often than not, like them. A Tame Impala album can provide the ideal soundtrack for a dance party but it can also make for an intense, trippy, solo listening session with the headphones cranked up. Such versatility stems from Parker’s own musical talent.

Parker, besides being able to do everything himself, is a real wizard on the guitar on which he produces a range of effects—loops, delays, fuzz, and so on. His compositions are melodic but also—and that’s rare for a band that fills huge arenas—lo-fi. But whether they are playing live or on their studio albums, Tame Impala have emerged as a band which, despite restless experimentation and innovative styles, can deliver sounds bearing their singular pop-meets-psychedelia-meets-prog rock consistently.

That’s what has made Tame Impala one of rock’s hottest bands du jour. They have headlined the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, played at Glastonbury, and toured Europe during 2019. The recent singles released by them (besides Lost In Yesterday, there are Posthumous Forgiveness, It Might Be Time and Borderline) provide a taste of the forthcoming album. The released tracks are intricate, hypnotic and totally immersive—qualities that Tame Impala’s fans look for in the band’s music. When the new album comes out, they are unlikely to be disappointed.

First Beat is a column on what’s new and groovy in the world of music.


Five tracks by Tame Impala to bookend your week

1. ‘Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?’ from ‘Innerspeaker’

2. ‘Music To Walk Home By’ from ‘Lonerism’

3. ‘The Less I Know The Better’ from ‘Currents’

4. ‘Borderline’ from ‘The Slow Rush’

5. ‘Lost In Yesterday’ from ‘The Slow Rush’

Twitter - @sanjoynarayan

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