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There’s something of a precedent for drugged up rockstars, whose personality is closely linked to the music they produce, to turn to dance music in an effort to re-invent themselves. David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Trent Reznor, to name but a few, have all dabbled with dance music at some point. On Currents, Kevin Parker, the singular mind behind Australian Psychedelic band Tame Impala, follows this path, but in an entirely different manner. Rockers have a tendency to strip away much of the artifice in dance music, exposing and playing with the cold and mechanical rhythms that lie beneath. What makes Currents stand out from most rock-gone-dance albums is the sheer amount of fun and exuberance that pervades on much of the album. Indeed, it seems as though Parker is committed to the idea of becoming a dance producer rather then merely toying with it.
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When ‘Let It Happen’, dropped back in March, it was decried by a number of fans who claimed that Tame Impala had abandoned their psychedelic nature and gone pop, owing to the fact that the guitar had taken a back-seat to the synthesiser. Anybody who feels that Tame Impala can no longer be psychedelic without a guitar in the forefront is very much missing the point, as Currents is far and away the most ‘out there’ thing that Kevin Parker has ever produced. The move to dance music means a move away from traditional song structure and this gives a lot of the tracks a sense of freedom. Parker proves himself quite adept at setting up a nice groove and then letting the song grow. Guitars, keyboards, drums, they all blend together to create a sprawling sea of noise.
It’s not surprising to hear that Currents was delayed by nearly two months, owing to Parker’s perfectionism, as its remarkable as to just how layered each song is. Fears that the group had sacrified something for a more commercial sound are totally unfounded as well. From the feedback laden bursts on ‘Nangs’, to the creepy vocal cacophony on ‘New Person, Same Mistakes’, some of the weirdest sounds of 2015 can be found on this record. Currents is truly a psychedelic album, in the sense that each song seems to be made out of pure imagination, a desire to create without being bound by structure. The only downside to this is occasionally songs meander pointlessly. Parker falls into the novice dance producer trap of simply allowing songs to fade out rather then giving them a proper ending. Most of the time though, the songs are so impressive that you hardly notice.
All of that said, Currents could very much be considered a pop album. Kevin Parker has been quite unabashed about how much he loves pop music (even claiming to have written an entire album for Britney Spears) over the past few years, and on Currents this love comes to the forefront. In spite of the generally downbeat lyrics, the vocal melodies are unreservedly pretty, and almost every song worms its way into your subconsciousness. While the songs do meander quite a bit, most of them have got a “moment” in them, something that anchors them and holds them together. These “moments” (if you will) have essentially replaced guitar solos on the album, and most of them seem to be cribbed, or at least very much inspired, by classic pop sounds: the Nile Rodgers-style riff on “The less I know the better”, the joyous synth stabs on ‘Let It Happen’, the chiming keyboard arpeggio on ‘Eventually’ (which is also hands down one of the most gorgeous sounds on any album this year), the bell like percussion on ‘This Moment’, the power ballad chords on ‘Disciples’.
These elements act as hooks in amid the very layered songs, and they are all very much in the classic pop tradition. Speaking of layers, its remarkable how clear this album is. Whilst songs do get downright My Bloody Valentine-esque at times, in terms of how crowded they are, there is almost non of the fuzz that characterized the Tame Impala’s previous efforts. The result is a remarkably crisp album, where every sound shines. There’s a lot of re listen value in simply trying to pick up on everything that’s going on in each song. Fans eager to see Tame Impala preform these tracks live should be a bit wary, as Currents is almost the very definition of a ‘headphones’ album.
Miles Davis once said that the hardest thing a musician can do is become themselves. In numerous recent interviews, Parker has said that Currents is the best representation of what he hears in his head. He attributes the sound of the album to the fact that the has finally gotten over caring what people think. In dance music proper, the role of creator should almost be anonymous, with their focus being on getting people moving. For a man who once sang that solitude is bliss, it’s hard to think of a better role.