Tame Impala – Lonerism Review

Elfy Scott reviews the new album by Tame Impala (with a little help from her mate Paulie):

Cruising around my workplace earlier this year, in the daily afternoon lull, caught in the trance of Tame Impala’s Innerspeaker flowing throughout the restaurant at an inappropriately high volume, I paused to ask my friend, Paulie, who exactly Tame Impala were, where on earth this fantastic noise they were plugging was originating and how many albums had they released in order to accomplish such a distinguished sound. The upshot of the conversation being that Tame Impala are a Perth-based band functioning largely upon the musical experimentation and ambition of their lead singer and guitarist, Kevin Parker, who cites influences for his brand of revivalist psychedelia with greats of the 60’s and 70’s such as the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Cream. Innerspeaker was Tame Impala’s 2010 debut LP and rumors were afloat of a follow-up album being released later in the year.

A few months later, with the release of the single Elephant receiving plenty of radio exposure and a delighted response internationally from the hoards of Tame Impala fans gained from their 2010 inauguration, my friend approached me to notify of the imminent release of Lonerism and the emphatically synth-driven turn that Tame Impala has taken; I reacted as any self-confessed musical purist would, with a markedly apprehensive “…oh dear”, to which he replied with an assertive, “No no, just wait, it’s kind of amazing”. He wasn’t wrong and was more than happy to explain precisely why in an enthusiastic email I received, as follows…

“Don’t expect anything too evolutionary from the Perth outfit of misfits…and thank whoever or whatever for that. Tame Impala’s second studio serves much of the same from their previous offerings. But this is Tame Impala version 2.0. With little tweaks here and there, it is the signature Tame Impala sound that we have come to known but, this time, it’s Tame Impala with synths!

Tame Impala dabbled with the use of synths before, but it has become the core foundation of Lonerism and ultimately a slightly different sound and feel than before. I don’t know if the boys were mesmerised by the pretty sounds of technology but Lonerism tends to remind you of places you’ve never been to before, moments in life that might leave you teary or warm and fuzzy inside. It seems like the synths have made the boys feel a bit emotional and sentimental. Their songs have become sonic wanderings, cascades of sound that all blend and combine to leave you awash with feelings of grandeur and isolation. Only the drums and vocals guide you through the ocean of harmonies, textures and colours. Is that a guitar, is that synth? It’s hard to tell sometimes but it doesn’t matter because you’ll be hit by the tsunami that is Lonerism. With that in mind, it is then essentially a soundscape, creating atmospheres rather than your run-of-the-mill catchy-riff-and-melody rock song. Then occasionally you’ll be caught out by some real groovy and catchy numbers like Mind Mischief, Music To Walk Home By and Elephant.

Now, the inclusion of synths does change Tame Impala’s sound and it does seem reminiscent of the bygone era of the 80’s which we all know was drenched in suede, fluro primary colours and the 8-16 bit sounds of synths. However, this is all so subtle. Synths may have been invented for this moment; the moment when Tame Impala absolutely saturates and fills their sound with pads maxed out with phasing, flanging, modulation, reverb, oscillation up the wazoo. The heavy use of synths by no means has drowned out any form of structure or direction to the songs. The drums are laid back but still direct and provide movement. The vocals are now more focused and lightly harmonised. Innerspeaker showed Tame Impala’s prowess in extensive and rich harmonies to their vocal melodies but on this album the harmonies are held back and instead the vocals are multi-layered with the same melody giving the vocal melodies are more linear direction and the vocals still wander and organically flow through within and without the song.

Innerspeaker was more aggressive and opted for a more driven approach, like the good ol’ rock and roll of the 60’s. Lonerism shows a more contemplative and relaxed side of Tame Impala (with the exception of Elephant). The boys are back and that got some pretty toys to show off and we should all be glad, don’t you think Elfy?”

…I do indeed and I doubt I could have worded a more eloquent tangent concerning Lonerism. It is only logical that Parker’s contemporary take on the legacy of 60’s psychedelic music lends itself elegantly to electronic instruments, creating a soundscape that is both wholly unpredictable and rewarding, mingled with an atmosphere totally reminiscent of that Pink Floyd. Fellow bands at the forefront of this psychedelic resurgence have taken delightedly to the complexity of production achievable with the application of a synth such as the Black Angels and the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s experimentation thereof beginning with their 2010 Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?. The atmosphere of this album certainly deviates from their debut; it strikes the listener as pop-laced with elements that are so impulsive and intoxicating, it is little surprise that Parker’s musical approach has been compared to that of Lennon. Lonerism is an album well worth listening to and further ensures Tame Impala is a name that shan’t be disappearing from the vanguard of Australian music any time soon.


Review by Elfy Scott and Paulie Jung