Tame Impala redefines breakup music

This July, Australian band Tame Impala released their third album “Currents”, a work that stands apart from their previous records. The psychedelic synth-rock style was foreshadowed in the 2012 album “Lonerism”, but this current work is far more melodic.

The attention to melody is displayed within seconds of the first track, “Let It Happen.” The bold, nearly eight-minute-long opener gets at the core sounds and lyrical styles of the album. The song hints at an increasing emotional pressure, and the musical style details the release of mounting tension. This release is followed by the gradual integration of several melodies (vocal and nonvocal) that were introduced throughout the song.

At the soaring climax, Kevin Parker, the founder, producer and vocalist for the band sings “Maybe, I was ready all along.” Then, the song fades out on that same ambiguous note. This gradual reduction of volume leaves the listener floating off into the distance with it. The fade-out is so well put together that the listener doesn’t feel like the any of the seven plus minutes were extraneous.

Even though “Let it Happen” is arguably the most complete track on the record, it by no means renders the remainder weak. Most of the remaining songs pay similar attention to harmonic completion.

However, others dabble into the experimental sound department. Three songs are less than two minutes long, which serves as an interesting building plan for potential future work. Perhaps the wobbling synth of “Nangs” foreshadows in the same way that the “Lonerism” anthems “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” and “Why Won’t They Talk To Me” alluded to what “Currents” became. The pain and struggle with interpersonal relationships elucidated in those Lonerism songs also have a strong presence in these more recent ones.

As far as lyrical and emotional tone go, this album is laced with recognizable breakup trends. However, this is no resentful Avril Lavigne breakup. Parker’s lyrics and tone reflect moving forward and personal growth, but not without the pain that accompanies such changes.

“Yes, I’m Changing” could be the most relaxed and stoic breakup song of all time. In addition to the slow background, Parker seems to be calm and looking forward when he sings “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 found, at last.” At surface level, everything seems well adjusted, but the mournful synth and the hints of despair (such as the long notes on “at last”) imply that this personal change does not lack growing pains.

Change is not only described as inevitable, but also inevitably painful.

The musical style of these various tracks fall under two themes: soft and melodic, funky and rhythmic. A great example of the latter is found in “The Less I Know the Better.” An upbeat intro inspires the listener to lean into the music, where we gradually hear about Parker’s decision to block out what a lover is doing with another man.

As the track goes on, the disparity between the buoyant beat and unfortunate lyrics becomes less pronounced. The music gets slower and sadder. This transition marks the darker veil thrown over these calm tracks about personal change and emotional release. The self doubt and regret that stem from such moments are not glossed over in Currents. The album displays the upstream and downstream causes and effects of letting something happen. Parker’s lyrics display this doubt through equivocal statements and double meanings.

“Maybe, I was ready all along,” for example, has a dark side, implying that Parker might never be able to prepare for his emotions. This equivocal nature also relates directly to the conflicting way the music sounds: in this case, simultaneously relaxed and mournful.

Perhaps the posterchild of this ambiguity is the closing track, “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.” Beneath it’s brooding, funky beat is a sense of impending disaster as the song builds to a chorus where two voices seem to argue with each other. Over an ominous pulsing rhythm, the song transitions from a near silent buildup to the surging chorus. Two voices quarrel “Feel like a brand new person (But you make the same old mistakes)/I don’t care I’m in love (Stop before it’s too late).”

This self doubt and combative energy truly summarize what makes this album interesting. Parker is addressing the complexity and duplicity of every choice and moment. Currents displays a river of actions and emotions; it doesn’t push listeners blindly to a finish line, but rather it pulls them in many directions by many streams of sound and feeling.

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