Hearing a band push itself beyond a sort of sonic stasis will nearly always be far more interesting than hearing retreads of past glories.
Instead of their usual psychedelia in miniature, Tame Impala have adopted a far more sprawling, experimental approach. Currents finds them relying more on electronics and studio trickery than ever before. While the production largely remains the same, the guitars that once permeated their albums have gone largely quiet in favor of synths, layered vocals and sundry other instruments designed to better flesh out their idealized, increasingly modernist take on ‘60s psychedelia filtered through a post-modern lens.
Rather than constructing compact songs designed for maximum impact, Currents relies more on an experiential approach to the music, allowing songs to stretch well past their breaking point, developing beyond mere single status and into something more profound. While they’ve never shied away from the notion of being an album band (as opposed to a singles band), here they completely embrace the idea of a holistic listening experience. Not a concept album in the strict sense, Currents employs a stylistic and thematic through line (or current) that ties these 13 tracks together in a way their previous efforts had not. Rather than focusing on accessible, hook-y songs, Currents traffics more in immersive listening experiences that require as much as the listener is willing to give.
Opening track “Let It Happen” runs nearly eight minutes, never once displaying any sort of discernible hook along the lines of Lonerism’s “Elephant.” But rather than meandering aimlessly, “Let It Happen” builds upon itself, exploring small ideas and motifs and following them to their logical conclusion. It’s a far more out-there approach to psych-rock than we’ve seen from Tame Impala before, and this will no doubt alienate some of those who gravitated to their more traditionally accessible material.
But for those who are willing to take the trip, Currents is a rewarding trek through a hybridized 21st psychedelic playground, one loaded with gauzy production, reverbed vocals, myriad synths and studio trickery designed for maximum impact on the senses. It’s a continuation of the band’s established aesthetic, only with the guitars traded in for synths.
Perhaps the track that most defines Tame Impala’s move away from the more lo-fi psychedelia of their early releases is the appropriately titled “Yes I’m Changing.” Here they forgo guitars entirely in favor of synth textures, harpsichord, lovely harmonies and near pop idol crooning atop their usual array of driving bass and reverbed drums. It’s an encouraging move away from the more insular nature of their earlier recordings in favor of a sprawling, Technicolor aural exploration.
While this move away from guitars and rock-based song constructions may rub fans of the group’s early efforts the wrong way, Currents shows the band growing in an entirely logical progression, moving in a direction that is in keeping with their original sound and expanding upon it with a broader range of instrumentation and lyrical ideas. By embracing more mainstream concepts within their ‘60s influenced aesthetic they manage to create a juxtaposition of not only sounds and styles, but also eras of pop music in general, providing a circular path through their early influences to ‘80s synth bands and back again (“The Less I Know the Better,” in particular). It’s a funhouse mirror of pop reflecting itself within itself. Recognizable details are present here and there but largely distorted into something wild, new and different.
While some might argue Currents represents a shift to the mainstream—an attempt to cash in on the appeal of Passion Pit and a host of others who’ve picked up synths and electronics in favor of guitars—they need only to look back to the band who could arguably be viewed as Tame Impala’s biggest influence: the Beatles. If Innerspeaker was the group’s Rubber Soul and Lonerism its Revolver, the sprawling, kaleidoscopic expanse of Currents is its Sgt. Pepper. Hearing a band push itself beyond a sort of sonic stasis will nearly always be far more interesting than hearing retreads of past glories. Tame Impala seems well aware of this and more than willing to challenge its audience. And for that they should be applauded.