Friday, January 18, 2013

"Lonerism:" on All Fours with Tame Impala

The package arrived at just the right time. The last time I opened my mailbox before I turned in the key to the apartment office, it bore an Amazon order that included Tame Impala’s Lonerism. I deemed it auspicious: new house, new music. The first listen, however, occurred when I was on my hands and knees putting the first coat of grout sealant on between the bathroom tiles. Hardly ideal. Despite this humble introduction, the albums hyperreal homage to psychedelia immediately grabbed my attention and has evolved into an indispensable favorite.

Tame Impala has an awareness of sound that was immediately noticeable. They bring an idealized memory of the late 60s and early 70s to life in much the same way that M83 does with 80s neo-romantic synth-pop: as it is remembered rather than as it was. For example, the fuzzy stomp-shuffle of Elephant clearly owes a debt to the instrumental section of Money, but it feels too reverent for me to judge Tame Impala too harshly for this similarity.

In addition to a sophisticated understanding of sound, Tame Impala also has an elegant sense of melody that expresses itself instrumentally as well as vocally. They often breathe new life into a tune by introducing an arresting riff right before the fade-out, implying that perhaps there is space in their live persona for extended jamming.

Within a few weeks, I had cultivated a great affection for their hybridized “John Lennon sings for Pink Floyd” approach. Only when I stumbled across the video for Feels Like We Only Go Backwards, however, did I really appreciate how fully they are committed to this style.

In addition to accompanying a great song, the video for Feels Like We Always Go Backward is a pretty and engaging piece of animation.  It also feels like it would be a small step for the trip to devolve into a three-armed nightmare.  Its rippling, hand-drawn aesthetic creates a surreal tension, the same kind that imbued old-school cartoons like Yellow Submarine and some of the shorts from The Electric Company with a sense of both wondrous beauty and uneasy dread.

The rest of the album also refers clearly to this era, but, like other good nostalgia bands, Tame Impala reinterprets more than they retell.  To put it a different way,  Lonersim is not “from” or “of” the psychedelic era as much as it is a commentary that is built on the dreamscapes of yesteryear.  Its distinctive musicality and consistency, however, allows it to stand on its own - even when I was on all fours getting domestic with the tile.

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