On ‘Slow Rush,’ Parker cements stardom as genre leader

Kevin Parker is multitudes. He is not merely a member of the band Tame Impala. He is Tame Impala. This is an important distinction to make, as Parker’s newest album “The Slow Rush” is cohesive and personal—of one mind, of one man.

Expectations for “The Slow Rush” were high. Parker’s last studio release, “Currents,” was embraced by diehard fans and music critics alike, and the artist had just disembarked from a searing tour of headlining sets at festivals no smaller than Coachella, Oshega and Lollapalooza. The album was released Friday, Feb. 14 at 12 a.m. My headphones were donned at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 13…I waited.

The 12-song, hour-long record opens with a swelling vocoder sample, both parts fractured and flowing. The beat drops, and Parker begins reminiscing on the past year. He seems to find comfort in the past, the known, the happened. The song quiets, then congas enter, as Parker seamlessly glides into yearning for the same comfort in the future, promising to spend just “One More Year” in the safety of his current routines and lifestyle. Lyrically, Parker’s abilities to gracefully drift through time, examining past mistakes, romanticized memories and that which has yet to come, constitute his greatest gift.

“Instant Destiny” begins with a heroic synth loop simulating blaring horns over a reverb-soaked and methodical drum beat. The ebbing and flowing loops reminiscent of 2015’s “Currents” topple at strong peaks, reminding me of beloved older Tame records like “Mind Mischief” and “Eventually.” While the most euphoric highs of “Currents” remain untouched and unchallenged, “Instant Destiny” serves as a noble attempt. Here Parker is in love, impulsive and happy to share his dream (at the moment) for the future: running away to Miami. He could do it, too, but hopes and plans so often change.

Next comes “Borderline,” the first single from “The Slow Rush.” Last summer, upon my first listen, I thought that it fell a bit flat. However, in the context of the full record, “Borderline” is reinvigorated by its groove and unique instrumentation, a departure in style and sound from tracks earlier in the band’s discography. The call-and-response style hook proves undeniably catchy over the delay-ridden harpsichord loop. A sweet pan flute weaves in and out of the song, creating a foreign and captivating soundscape. The huge overdriven synth bass on the second half of each chorus, in my humble opinion, slaps.

“Posthumous Forgiveness” is grand and ambitious at its best. At its worst, it is boring and overstays its welcome. The distinctive chord progression evokes the Eagles hit “Hotel California.” However, the broodingly slow beat drags on and loses interest, except for the last third of the track, which completely pivots to a lighter, more familiar Tame Impala outro. Just as my ears adjust to expect more of the same from Kevin Parker, I am introduced to what will become one of my favorite songs on the record. Possibly a standout moment in his entire discography.

Parker’s often underhyped skills as a drummer are beautifully showcased on “Breathe Deeper.” With an appreciation for the limitations of a human drummer versus a drum machine, he produces drums which rest between organic and robotic. The intricacy and precision of Parker’s craft is comparable to that of the strongest rap producers and creators working today. It’s no wonder why this genre leader has collaborated with other genre leaders like Rihanna and Travis Scott. Aside from the drumbeat, the intro’s glittery, syncopated piano makes for some of the record’s slickest production. The lyrics are confident and playful. Parker’s voice subtly reaps the benefits of his success in a sweet yet self-assured tone. Any musical challenge you ask of him is answered in the affirmative “I can.” It’s a great song.

The outro of “Breathe Deeper” (and victory lap) gently leads us into “Tomorrow’s Dust,” whose acoustic guitar is peaceful and refreshing. In the last 30 seconds of the track, “Breathe Deeper” reprises a second time in the form of a short ambient skit. Parker’s freedom and willingness to include hidden outros and interludes in such tracks makes for a truly immersive experience, presenting the listener with broad-minded and unexpected moments.

“Lost In Yesterday” is another stand-out track. Once again, percussion is the centerpiece. The song’s lyrics are drenched in the theme of time passing, Parker’s latest obsession. His perspectives on living and letting go begin to form a meaningful message: As we make mistakes, we can regret them, but at some point we just have to navigate through the wreckage and move on. Leave the past in the past, even when it’s hard to let it happen.

“Is It True” is hands-down my favorite song on the record. The giant synth lead in the chorus comes straight from a metallic, speaker-blowing Justice track. It’s nostalgic but has modern groove sensibilities. It is undeniably made for movement. It can and will hold its own on any college dance floor. Has anyone here ever heard of Kaytranada? Enough said.

“It Might Be Time” was a single that, in many ways, previewed the album’s conceptual framework. Much like James Murphy on LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge,” Parker’s stint of continued success leads him to accept the fact that few artists’ careers can exist indefinitely with enduring relevance. It’s a valid—and deeply human— anxiety to have. Be honest with those fears; in fact, embrace them, he says.

The album finishes with the exquisite rock ballad “One More Hour.” Here marks for me the record’s most poignant vocal performance. Parker’s tone two minutes in is ethereal and empathy-inducing: “How could I love again?/How could I ever ask for more?/Into the road ahead/Into a life I can’t ignore.” He ends the album where many of us so often find ourselves: unsure of our future, missing past lovers and past lives. The instrumental itself explodes with emotion, memorializing the epic sound of Pink Floyd and The Who. It’s worth the last seven minutes. It’s something to sit with. All he can hope for is one more hour, in the face of time slowly and eternally rushing away.

The record fades. I relisten; just one more hour. I’m still listening.

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