Tame Impala’s The Slow Rush and the passing of time

It’s been a long five years since Tame Impala released Currents, the record that pushed the band to mainstream stardom. It’s incredible to see Kevin Parker’s evolution from 60’s guitar psychedelia prodigy to pop-song writing wonder with a reputation to his name. On The Slow Rush, everything circles around the concept of time. Now into his 30’s, Parker attempts to embrace his own ego as a Coachella-headlining act. Taken as a whole, the album sounds like playing Mario Kart on the Rainbow Road map. There’s still the Tame Impala sound that is psychedelic and effects-heavy in nature. Yet, this particular record has the feeling of driving through an intergalactic world with a deliberate caution of not leaping into the void. It’s as if Parker is on cruise-control, only wanting to take risks once he’s sure of a straight path. That’s not to say that this record isn’t good. It’s still going to be one of the most polished albums this year — enough for anyone to see their reflection on it with its tighter-than-ever instrumentals and flawless production.

Although his past three albums were much more interesting sonically, his aptitude for perfection at album number four might just be why it doesn’t stand out as much as any of the past records. Mastering all the recording and production techniques must have put a damper on a lot of the interesting sounds that Parker pursued in the past. It could be that this album might just be too perfect-sounding. Previous to this record, Parker’s songs would go one direction and then take you by surprise from one moment to the next — moments that would grab you by the shoulder and divert your attention to his genius. Nevertheless, Tame Impala’s evolution into this new decade has produced a record still worthy of a spin.

With each sound level and each parameter calibrated to perfection, opener “One More Year” contains a sound in what he refers to as his Gregorian Robot Choir — a manipulated to precision sample providing the backbone to a mellowed-out track, easing you into The Slow Rush sound. From the get-go, the Tame Impala vibe already feels different from previous iterations of the band. It’s a little laid-back without the grandeur usually offered on a Tame Impala intro. He sings: “Do you remember we were standing here a year ago? / Our minds were racing, and time went slow.” It sets the tone of looking into time as an inescapable concept, yet the weak opener might fail to catch anyone’s attention.

Despite leaving the realm of psychedelic rock, there are still the relentless grooves of The Slow Rush. “Is It True gets into funk territory with some bongos (an instrument more prominently used in a lot of the record), and a thumping bassline reminiscent of “The Less I Know The Better.” Halfway through the track, the song transitions into a spellbinding disco groove. Throughout the record, a lull might transpire on occasion, but Parker seems to always nudge you back with an attention-grabbing post-track breakdown.

Meanwhile, “Instant Destiny” feels like it can veer into chillwave textures exuding Caribou and Four Tet-like production. Moreover, the hook of Breathe Deeper” might be one of the catchiest bars Parker’s ever written. “If you think I couldn’t hold my own, believe me, I can,” echoes Parker in a mesmerizing turn of phrase. On the track’s outro, just when you think the song’s over, Parker dives into this nasty synth part as if realizing he’s at an acid techno club. On the album’s Spotify feature, Parker muses that the track was influenced by Mariah Carey, Pharrell, and his first time taking ecstasy. Some parts of The Slow Rush ultimately feels like this — a slow rush, if you will, of serotonin flooding your brain and stimulating your senses. It’s a very sensory experience that triggers slow motion club dancing, with Parker’s vocals passing through you like a mist to cool off the heat emanating from your drug-induced body.

Something to note is the more traditional lyric-centered songwriting compared to previous records. Parker’s gone from Zappa guitar freak-outs to added gloss; grandiose synths provide a particularly uniform environment instead of guitar leads transporting you to a wealth of fantastical worlds. Parker never really focused on his vocals and lyrics as much as the instrumentals, but there’s more contemplating here when Parker gets into some balladry on songs like “On Track.” It’s a heartwarming song that slows down the album’s dance-centric vibe. Parker laments, “The world ain’t routin’ for ya, nothin’ to lose it over / We’re just a little older, the rest gets easy.” It’s a reminder for us trying to realize our dreams that we’re going to come out of this in the end, as a synth whirls behind Parker’s modesty.

On “Posthumous Forgiveness,” the track might draw a yawn with its slow tempo on the intro. Still, on closer inspection, Parker provides more depth to his songwriting, musing about his failed relationship with his father. It’s really only in the second half of the track (as usual) where things get interesting: a warbling synth plays as Parker’s mesmerizing falsetto sings a tuneful hook to his deceased father: “I wanna tell you ‘bout the time / Wanna tell you ‘bout my life / Wanna play you all my songs.” Interestingly, the second half of the song wasn’t even supposed to be part of the track, according to Parker, in an interview with Zane Lowe. Parker reveals a moving revelation to let go of his spite towards his father. It’s a tender sentiment that shows more of a vulnerable side to Parker’s lyricism.

It’s funny seeing someone succeed as much as he is, coming from the world of DIY indie rock — writing songs and collaborating with artists with the likes of Travis Scott, Theophilus London, Lady Gaga and getting covered by Rihanna — and still feel the kind of insecurity and doubt he faces. On “It Might Be Time,” he muses about losing his touch: “It might be time to face it / It ain’t as fun as it used to be.” Parker’s self-awareness only brings up our own share of nostalgia for the past, yet is ultimately a distraction for the present. Its chorus can be reminiscent of Lonerism’s psych rock leanings where the track’s drums are hit at the record’s hardest. Despite his insecurity, I can already suspect that he’s going to be nominated for a few Grammys, as well as possibly winning Best Alternative Album for this record next year, considering the hype and persona he’s built over the five years since Currents. I can even see Parker fitting in as a Grammy-nominated producer in the future due to his budding reputation, to the chagrin of many older Tame Impala (myself included).

Long are the days of the “Half Glass Full of Wine” version of Tame Impala. Some can argue that The Slow Rush sound might have started on “Feels Like We Go Backwards,” but now “Glimmer” might portend dance music conductor on future records. Just look at Thom Yorke’s IDM musical stylings at 40 — Kevin Parker DJ sets abound. It’s only inevitable for any musician’s career to evolve her sound and style, but the traces of Parker’s to arrive at The Slow Rush have always been there. He’s made three almost perfect albums, so you can’t really give him any shit for a relatively weaker, but solid record. Currents soundtracked a whole camping trip full of fond memories for me. The Slow Rush might just soundtrack the most extended periods of our lives in quarantine — a chance for us to dwell on the nature of time and pause for a brief moment.

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