PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Tame Impala: Currents

Australia's most promising young rock band masterfully blend psychedelia with dance music on their bold and epic third album.

Tame Impala


Label: Interscope
US Release Date: 2015-07-17
UK Release Date: 2015-07-17

If nothing else, Tame Impala’s third album Currents has revealed the continued existence of residual resentment toward disco among rock fans. Early responses to the record’s early danceable single “Let It Happen” were mixed, but a very vocal minority expressed their distaste for the band’s move away from tasteful psych-rock toward a more intrepid electro-funk bent. For the followers of a band that styled themselves after the Beatles and retro garage rock artists, the song represented shameless aspirations toward mass appeal pop with -- the biggest sin of all for those who value the elusive “human touch” of rock -- heavy electronic influence.

To be fair, the nearly eight-minute “Let It Happen” may have been a lot to swallow for traditional rock purists: swirling keyboards and a vocoder line steal melodic focus from the effects-draining guitars, the drums throb with the static pulse of electronic dance music, and the instrumentation all but dies away behind an EQ filter during the song’s ethereal refrain. Provocatively, Tame Impala mastermind Kevin Parker even employs sample looping effects in the track’s lush instrumental section, trapping digital and analog sounds together in a disruptive, hiccupping loop for over a minute. “Let It Happen” ends with all these independent layers wonderfully and improbably united: dirty fuzz guitar, vocoder, and gaudy synth don’t battle for space but harmonize with one another as a lush, satisfying whole. It’s perhaps Tame Impala’s most interesting composition to date, yet many early fans who identified with the vintage whimsy of Innerspeaker and the robust guitar rock of Lonerism remained wholly unconvinced.

Later singles did nothing to assuage those concerns. “‘Cause I’m a Man”, released in early April, exacerbated fears with twinkling bells, synthetic drum sounds, and an infectious vocal melody that come dangerously close to the sounds of 1980s pop ballads. The minute-and-a-half “Disciples” dropped a few weeks later, its instrumentation clouded by lo-fi, heavily filtered production that approximates the mono sound of early garage rock, all before someone hits a switch and the music expands and modernizes in an instant with blustering compressed drums, creamy guitars and groaning bass. Parker’s studio tricks were naturally lost on the skeptics, but the “Disciples” gimmick was a confirmation of the same retro-to-contemporary shift used to great effect on “Let It Happen”. The last pre-release single, “Eventually”, landed somewhere between “‘Cause I’m a Man”’s pop gold and Lonerism’s hard-hitting psychedelia, suggesting that those fans hoping for a purer, rock-redeemed Currents tracklist were likely out of luck.

But Currents proper still retains the band’s sense for aesthetics, even through their unique musical evolution. Parker’s psychedelic sensibilities are more vivid than ever on album interludes like “Nangs” and “Gossip”, both brandished with the trippy, scuzzy synths of indie electronic artists like Neon Indian and Washed Out. The band’s penchant for bold guitar work is no less alive, either, with the dirty riff that closes out “Let It Happen” paving the way for the massive chords in “Eventually” and the fuzzy bass melody that guides “The Less I Know the Better”. One of the band’s previously most overlooked characteristics -- their ambitious level of musical scope -- is developed to an unparalleled extreme on Currents. Experimentation with impulsive diversions in song structure lend transformative energy to the entire record, but especially tracks like “Let It Happen”, “New Person, Same Old Mistakes”, and “The Moment”, songs with otherwise conventional foundations expanded beyond traditional limitations through left-field interludes and spontaneous, evolutionary bridges.

That Parker’s music has changed is indisputable, but for as progressive an album this is for him and the band, it’s also remarkably well-developed. Currents is not a haphazard pairing but a seamless blend of Tame Impala’s familiar rock stylings and Parker’s new disco obsession. It's a pure alliance of vintage and modern sounds, psychedelic and dance sensibilities. Parker’s seemingly disparate inspirations evolve together as dependent forces in his music. “Reality in Motion” acts as a spiritual successor to “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” with its full, fluid chord progression, but it achieves it with swimming synth lines and, instead of the dry funk of the latter song’s drums, a buoyant dance beat that pairs well with the wavy melodies. Parker’s floaty vocals on the searingly psychedelic, phaser-rich “Past Life” are wholly familiar, but a near hip-hop beat and constant shift in sound effects accentuate the band’s dynamic evolution.

Rockist doubts aside, Tame Impala is very much present on Currents. Their acidic melodies may now be adorned with sparkling keyboards and heady dance drums -- flavors fully outside the rock wheelhouse -- but Parker’s aim is to unite the two sensibilities, not to remove the band from the rock formula altogether. Currents is a singular achievement in that regard, a satisfying diversion in the flow of two styles of classic music previously at odds with one another. If they never learn to get along for good, that’s fine. At the very least Currents shows that it can be done, and done well.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.