I know, I know. Millennial approximations of a “hipster” listening to Tame Impala is so generic. And yet, Currents is anything but generic. You can call it trippy psychedelic pop, synth-pop, indie rock, alt disco R&B, or whatever you want. You can listen to it while studying, driving, chilling, partying, or even crying. Regardless, its array of commercial and avant-garde appeal makes it a revelatory thesis for Kevin Parker. His repertoire as a producer, songwriter, instrumentalist, vocalist, engineer, and arranger is evident. Keep in mind that Tame Impala isn’t really a “band.” Parker records it all by himself, employing the help of a band only for live concerts. He is a master of all trades. And from the vivid synths to the guitar riffs to the full-bodied bass to the drums, Currents reaches for the stars—all while showing off its incessant feeling of cohesion. It also employs a degree of minimalism which prevents the adulterations that would exist if Parker allowed others’ fingerprints on it. Therein Currents is a post-modern masterpiece that audiophiles will adore for decades.
The album begins with an audacious, elaborate thunderbolt of manic creativity: a nearly eight-minute long track entitled “Let It Happen.” A psychedelic pop, disco, and synth-pop experiment, “Let It Happen” draws you into the weird little soul-searching pilgrimage that is Currents (if you’re willing to lurk beyond the surface of the album’s aesthetics). Using a keyboard sampler to manipulate the beat and stop it and draw parts of the song out and compress others, it is an interesting first track that vindicates its length for those who are patient. Next up is “Nangs,” one of my favorites on the album. A wobbly, disorienting, trippy song that really just dwells in its weirdness. From what I’ve read, the song name is a reference to the Australian slang term for nitrous oxide canisters—and the simple track seemingly does an excellent job of emulating the woozy and undulating feeling of being high on N2O. Anyway, two songs later comes the underrated track “Yes I’m Changing,” one of my all-time favorites. Deploying a “stream of conscious” type approach that favors emotional honesty, Parker frames the end of a relationship with the sort of tact and understanding that very rarely filters into pop music. The song is simultaneously both invigorating and relaxing, a rare mix that ages like fine wine.
I was raging, it was late
In the world my demons cultivate
I felt the strangest emotion but it wasn’t hate for once
Yes, I’m changing, yes, I’m gone
Yes, I’m older, yes, I’m moving on
And if you don’t think it’s a crime, you can come along with me
Life is moving, can’t you see?
There’s no future left for you and me
I was hoping and I was searching endlessly
But baby, now there’s nothing left that I can do
So don’t be blue
There is another future
Waiting there for you.
I saw it different, I must admitVerses 1 & 2 of “Yes I’m Changing.”
I caught a glimpse, I’m going after it
They say people never change but that’s bullshit, they do
Yes, I’m changing, can’t stop it now
And even if I wanted, I wouldn’t know how
Another version of myself I think I’ve found at last
And I can’t always hide away
Curse indulgence and despise the fame
There is a world out there and it’s calling my name
And it’s calling yours, girl, It’s calling yours too.
After “Yes I’m Changing” comes the fifth track, “Eventually.” Another one of my all-time favorite songs and certainly my second most played track off Currents, “Eventually” features the densest ball of energy—beginning with a dramatic, grandiose gesture of guitar, drum, and synth chaos with a momentum that builds for the entire song. “Eventually” contains everything you could ask for—as well as an intimate sense of subtle vulnerability. Skip over to the seventh track now (which I hate doing with such a fluid album, but I don’t have enough space to cover every song), and you’ll meet “The Less I Know The Better.” I kind of don’t play this hit song much because the groove is pretty dorky and so too are the lyrics, but the track boasts an iconic beat and undeniable catchiness. Anyway, skip a handful of songs and let’s move on to the last track (as this review only covers the album in broad terms and the standout tracks). “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” shines with the sense of sonic brilliance and lyrical introspectiveness for which Parker built a reputation through his other landmark album: Lonerism (2012). The track is a fitting conclusion to the album that both describes personal transformation of a man in his late 20s and also embodies it musically—a woozy, six-minute kicker with a grumbling bassline, distorted drums, and ultimately a product that sounds amazing.
I can just hear them nowVerse 1 of “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.”
“How could you let us down?”
But they don’t know what I found
Or see it from this way ’round
Feeling it overtake
All that I used to hate
One by one, every trait
I tried, but it’s way too late
All the signs I don’t read
Two sides of me can’t agree
Will I be in too deep?
Going with what I always longed for
Feel like a brand-new person
But you’ll make the same old mistakes
Well, I don’t care, I’m in love
Stop before it’s too late
Whether you chop up the album and listen to it in bits and pieces at a time or you play it from start to end, Currents is a magical trip. You may find yourself occasionally bored if you’re not situated in an immersive, ideal sound environment—but the highs overwhelm the lows. And its highlights don’t categorically constitute the importance of this work; you’ll uncover beauty in even the random moments. The production is absolutely flawless throughout, in standard Kevin Parker fashion. And while the impressive studio LP evokes Beach House, Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective, and so on, there is nothing quite like Tame Impala. Granted, I’m not too sure if certain older demographics will find this music as neat as I do, and that’s okay. It’s not like this album is a paradigm shift for the entire orbit of music. It just sounds dreamy and, with every single idiosyncratic listening experience, it always elucidates new layers of nuance & emotion.
So, after two albums that essentially focused on Parker’s isolation from society, Currents restores him to its foreground. And ever since then, the Australian multi-instrumentalist and musical genius has remained an apt case of the spectacle that is pop stars. Currents retains every bit of the novelty of Parker’s prior albums, but the overall appeal takes this work to planes that Parker had not yet achieved even with Lonerism, one of the best albums of 2012. Currents will rock your world if you listen with fancy equipment and an attentive mind. Yet for more passive listeners, you can also play Currents as background music. There isn’t a single disposable song. The album is loaded with beautiful, bold tracks. You can call it banal because it has emerged as a ubiquitous pop monolith that every music snob in their 20s knows. But this magnum opus was as fresh as music could be upon its release, and the world needed it more than we could have ever imagined.