12 Track, LP (2012, Modular)
Related: Tame Impala.
Let’s start with the most obvious question: where are the guitars? OK, there are guitars on Lonerism, but that molasses-thick sonic crunch that characterised Innerspeaker has vanished. If the touchstones for their debut were stoner and shoegaze, this time Kevin Parker has cracked out his ’90s/’00s US indie – Flaming Lips, Grandaddy, early Mercury Rev – and gone “Yep, thanks, I’ll have some of that.”
It comes in the wake of Parker’s explanation that Tame Impala and related projects are basically parts of one big multi-faceted thing, which would explain why Pond’s Beard, Wives, Denim sounds rather more like what you’d expect from a second Tame Impala LP. That Kevin Parker is taking things in a new direction is made clear from the very beginning: a panting loop of a near-whispered “Gotta be above it” that gives the opening track its title.
The glam stomp of ‘Elephant’ is something of a red herring. For one thing, it’s the only song that sounds like there might have been more than one musician in the room when it was recorded. It’s also easily the weakest song, if the only one that sounds fairly straightforward to play live – although I can’t wait to hear the magnificent psych ballad ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ rebuilt for the stage.
Guitars are present: they’re just hidden. The rhythm guitar that underpins the superb ‘Enders Toi’ is phased into nothingness and overlaid with bubbling synths before an overdriven guitar solo scythes out of the speakers, while the propulsive ‘Music to Walk Home By’ chugs along on a spry bass line.
The key-heavy ‘Apocalypse Dreams’ is the first of several tracks that suggest there’s a whole lot of Elephant 6 lurking in Parker’s record collection: the minute-long ‘She Just Won’t Believe Me’ is a pointless trifle similar to the transitional sketches on The Apples in Stereo’s Her Wallpaper Reverie, but ‘Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything That We Could Control’ should have Olivia Tremor Control kicking themselves for having missed a trick. It builds things up powerfully before the album ends with the rudimentary piano waltz ‘Sun’s Coming Up’, fading in like an AM station beamed from outer space before cutting into a psych-guitar-and-sound-effect fadeout in the grand tradition of pointless hidden tracks.
So it’s ambitious, sprawling and consistently unexpected. But is it, well, good? The weakness with Lonerism is that it sounds like a collection of songs rather than an album with a beginning, middle and end. It’s also incredibly top-heavy: there’s very little bottom end, and the shrill guitar tones, keening synths and Parker’s breathy, often falsetto vocals means everything sounds like it was mastered on a cocaine bender.
Taken in context with everything else Parker and company are involved in, Lonerism is fascinating. On its own, though, it seems less like an exciting new direction than an admittedly charming creative cul-de-sac.
by Andrew P Street