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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Album of the Week: Tame Impala - "Lonerism"

Rating: 9.3/10

Released by Australian psychedelic group Tame Impala almost a year ago, Lonerism is an album that had such an immediate impact that releases from this year have been compared to and have drawn influence from it. The amazingly addictive dream-pop haze of Lonerism brought back late '60's psychedelia while still sounding modern and fresh. Vocalist/band leader Kevin Parker sounds scarily similar to John Lennon, and the production values sound crisp yet have a retro quality to them. The album is trippy, hypnotizing, and absolutely brilliantly crafted. New songs from Cults and Washed Out have followed a similar vein, but neither have reached the heights that Lonerism has. An excellent summer album released just weeks into fall, the record still found itself on many year-end best-of lists, grabbing the #1 spot from NME and Rolling Stone.

"Be Above It" chugs along to kick off Lonerism, featuring a whispered, repeated hook, an echoing drum beat, and wavy keyboard flourishes.The song is decidedly rockier and more hurried than other songs on the album, many of which contain dreamy, sweeping synth solos that will be discussed more in-depth in the coming paragraphs.

"Be Above It" is followed by "Endors Toi," a guitar driven track with a panicky drum pattern. The soaring guitar riff that kicks off the tune never quite gives way to the keyboard jabs up until most of the instruments drop out to give Parker a chance to speak. He stays for a bit, then bows out to let the bass and guitar play nearly identical solos. For the next four tracks, Tame Impala elect for a spacier sound and the result is even more psychedelic than the opening one-two slot.

This four-song stretch starts with "Apocalypse Dreams," the first song released from the record. "Everything is changing, and there's nothing I can do," cries Parker here. The snare drum pushes the track's verses forward while the keyboard desperately tries to slow the song down, as lush breakdowns bring "Apocalypse Dreams" to a new level of aural satisfaction. The riff-driven "Mind Mischief" comes next, as frantic drum fills occur practically every measure. Parker's vocals swirl around the song with the synthesizers, most noticeable when listening with headphones.

The last two songs of this foursome are the aptly-named "Music to Walk Home By" and the socially paranoid "Why Won't They Talk To Me?" Once again, both songs are vast synth-outs (a recurring theme on Lonerism) and sound just as sweet as previous duo.Parker's vocals stand out on each track, containing some of his most revealing lyrics which relate back to the record's name. "In so many ways I'm somebody else, I'm trying so hard to be myself," he sings repeatedly on "Music to Walk Home By." Don't let the happy tones and floaty keyboards fool you; though Lonerism is a very upbeat album sonically, its themes are that of social isolation and awkwardness.

The seven-eight-nine stretch on the record maybe the strongest of an already stellar group, containing the album's two most recognizable and memorable songs. The first of these is "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards," a groovy song in which Parker pleads with his partner to turn their relationship around. Showcasing both internal and external conflict by alternating between the use if "we" and "I," Tame Impala also provide one of the most far-out songs of 2012.

Though not the strongest track on Lonerism, "Keep on Lying" provides a nice buffer between the album's two best moments. A relatively simple yet lengthy piece, "Keep on Lying" features the sounds of conversation in the background during the keyboard and guitar solos. Parker has mentioned his love for ambient noise before, and including human voices in the track works well here.

The only way I can think of to describe "Elephant" is as a monster of a song. Riding on the backbone of a shuffle beat and bluesy guitar part, "Elephant" is by far the heaviest song on the album, and most likely the best as well. The first half is very up-front, driving on forcefully until relenting to the truly incredible second-half synth solo. Though starting with a not-so-magnificent riff, once the music drops out a second time, the song explodes into a triumphant clash of cymbals and overlaying keyboard tracks.Then, just like that, it all melts away and Parker's vocals kick in again with the original instrumentals helping him out. A ridiculously song from an excellent band's superb sophomore album, "Elephant" is certainly a song for the ages.

For such a thoroughly enjoyable record, Lonerism finishes somewhat disappointingly. Of the three remaining tracks, only "Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control" really constitutes as a song. "She Just Won't Believe Me" is merely an interlude, though not a bad one, and "Sun's Coming Up" is a minimalist outro containing just Parker's singing and a piano riff. Though sinsister sounding, it doesn't add much to the album, nor does the three or so minutes of ambient keys at the conclusion of the record. Still, "Nothing That Has Happened..." fits well with other Lonerism companions, what with its wild instrumental psych-outs.

Lonerism is a great album for both sides of the emotional spectrum; its cheery sounds and introspective lyrics represent opposite feelings. But most of all, it's simply a great album to listen to. It's been a while since someone used keyboards as effectively as Tame Impala do here, and the psychedelic rock group may have been crowned king of the genre's revival thanks to the strength of Lonerism. Check out some key songs & their trippy accompanying videos below.

Key Tracks: "Elephant," "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards," "Apocalypse Dreams," "Endors Toi"

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