Genre: Psych Pop
Favorite Tracks: “One More Year,” “Borderline,” “Posthumous Forgiveness,” “Breathe Deeper,” “On Track,” “Lost In Yesterday,” “Is It True”
As the psych rock revival boom of the 2010s went out of vogue, Kevin Parker was faced with the tough choice of whether to sell out or fade into Stereogum obscurity. After a run of two masterpiece full-lengths and an absolute rocker in 2008’s self-titled EP, Parker and the Tame Impala crew rose to international stadium fame with 2015’s insufferable CURRENTS, an album that evoked a sound akin to the heartbreak of a Supertramp cover band frontman. After a several year hiatus, when it seemed Tame Impala had become the festival circuit’s most washed up YouTube gearheads, they returned with “Borderline,” a single that rides the fine line between Coachella earcandy and heartfelt psych banger. With that, Tame Impala’s modernization and reclamation of integrity began.
I was admittedly pretty unenthused going into my first listen through THE SLOW RUSH. I normally listen to major releases the day they drop, but I procrastinated on listening for a solid 48 hours until the discourse in my timeline made me feel like a true idiot for not having heard the month’s most popular record. Putting on the opening vocoder of “One More Year” through my college radio station’s speakers, I found my cold heart beginning to forgive Parker for the miserable Urban Outfitters-core slog of CURRENTS. While THE SLOW RUSH may sound more high fidelity and digitized than anything Tame Impala has released before, the record embraces a contemporary pop palette with tact, and feels more true to form than the awkward radio friendly analog of their prior post-LONERISM sound.
Where THE SLOW RUSH really excels is in its gorgeous melodies. While Tame Impala’s music may not sonically evoke The Beatles as heavily as it did on INNERSPEAKER, Parker’s knack for emotive songwriting is more Lennon-esque than ever before on the band’s latest. From an instrumental standpoint, “Posthumous Forgiveness” may be the act’s best track to date. Opening with a Mild High Club-style acoustic guitar riff, the first half of the sonic journey saunters atop a burgundy soundscape before it divulges into Parker’s most awe-inspiring synthscape to date. As the track transitions from aromatic mystery into a soaring retro futuristic swell of an outro, it is made clear for the first time that rising from shaggy club rockers to major label kingpins isn’t something that happened to Tame Impala because they succumbed to the pitfalls of industry capitalism, but rather because they’re one of the last rock bands in the world whose sound is best experienced in a large crowd.
Parker and his bandmates have always pulled off traditional rocker energy with miraculous authenticity. I grew up Revolutionary War reenacting, and as a product of my stuck-in-the-1770s childhood I generally find modern bands adorned in sequins and tassels triggering and irksome. Tame Impala are the rare act who can make the sentence “biggest band in the world” still sound genuinely cool in a post-Sonic Youth society. There has always been something transcendent about the ease with which Kevin Parker rips through fuzzed-out guitar solos shoeless in front of crowds of thousands. While most big name rock acts recall the post-Steppenwolf dismay that got Greta Van Fleet so intensely ridiculed, moments during THE SLOW RUSH like “On Track” or “It Might Be Time” pull off retro-glam nerdiness without the cringeworthy sheen we’ve come to expect from similar musical ventures. There are also a number of dancible moments on THE SLOW RUSH that eschew Tame Impala’s distinctive brooding in favor of celebratory top-down anthems. “Tomorrow’s Dust” and “Is It True” recall UNDERNEATH THE PINE-era Toro Y Moi’s post-disco synthesis, and sound more like the songs I would expect Tame Impala to play in the background at a rooftop afterparty than they do the songs I would have expected them to play live in their sets five years ago. While, yes, Tame Impala may be changing, they are embracing the celebration that comes with being the most famous act in rock and roll and are losing the feigned brooding that made CURRENTS feel so insincere.
THE SLOW RUSH is ultimately a redeeming arena rock staple that may be the first standout mainstream record of the decade. Kevin Parker plays the role of wide-eyed, unassuming celebrity better than ever before, and regains the genuine disposition that made the soul behind INNERSPEAKER and LONERISM speak more than the tye-dye aesthetics. While they may never be the coveted critical darlings they once were, Tame Impala have achieved justifiable widespread fame with commendable sincerity, and though the starpower slump of CURRENTS may have left me second guessing the quality of the act’s work, THE SLOW RUSH is the rare reminder that being a globally acclaimed band can still be cool even after their indie boom prime.