The Slow Rush, the latest LP from Kevin Parker, aka the mastermind behind the psychedelic band, Tame Impala, is as much a self-reflective open letter to the world as it is a beautifully obfuscating, transmuting, rippling piece of music. On the 12-track album, the band’s fourth, Parker reminisces, offers notes on where he’s come from, where he’s been, and what the future might hold for his psyche, all amidst Tame Impala’s signature dreamy, 1960s-retro-through-a-million-pedals sound.
“What we did one day on a whim has slowly become all we do,” sings Parker on the record’s opening track, “One More Year”. It’s as if he is pointing directly at the tornado that’s swept him up since those early home studio Tame Impala recordings. Now, with worldwide critical acclaim, Parker looks back, as if finally able to see what’s happened. The record continues with “Instant Destiny”, which highlights the frontman’s propensity for the exceptional. “I’m about to do something crazy,” he sings in falsetto, portending the rest of the record.
The album’s third song, “Borderline”, is an obvious single. It’s a cut above the already high bar set by the previous two tracks in terms of energy and candy stickiness. It’s a walkthrough Strawberry Fields; it’s a tea party with the Mad Hatter. More bright colors and psycho-ferocity than subtlety or substance. But on the record’s fourth track, “Posthumous Forgiveness”, Parker gets deeper. On it, he sings smoothly like the Weeknd about his wish to tell his deceased father about the great things that have happened to him (like talking to Mick Jagger on the phone). But while the first half of the song feels angered, the second half feels resolved.
“Breathe Deeper”, which follows, would be a top pick for any breakdancer. It’s rigid in the best of ways, popping and locking like a subway artisan on a big square of well-worn cardboard. But it also provides, yes, a deep breath after the very personal song preceding it. Its melody is like a melty pink marshmallow. “Tomorrow’s Dust”, the album’s next track, is pretty, but it also has vacancy. On it, Parker sounds like someone searching for connection: both to his unique self and something larger than himself. What should he do, what shouldn’t he? These are common, though very personal questions.
The second half of the record begins with “On Track”. The cut is meant to reassure — perhaps both the listener and Parker, himself. On it, the singer says that, despite everything, he’s where he needs to be. Do we believe him? Does he believe himself? “Strictly speaking, I’m on track,” he sings. The record’s train of thought continues with “Lost in Yesterday”, which bounces, remembering the good old days, even though they weren’t always so pleasant in real-time. “Is It True” is more of a club banger than a ballad, reminiscent of early 1980s hip-hop beats mixed with some modern flair.
The existential record’s final quarter kicks off with, “It Might Be Time”, a song that deals with the reality of growing up. No matter if you’re a world-famous rock star, time still passes, you age, your friends age. Things break, things change. “It might be time to fix it!” proclaims Parker. “You aren’t as cool as you used to be!” The album’s shortest track is also its penultimate. “Glimmer”, nevertheless, is not frivolous. It’s thoughtful and yet appropriate for the scene in a movie when the hero is racing through the streets, lights streaking in the background, at the film’s climax.
On the final track of The Slow Rush, “One More Hour”, we are told time has passed. We are older now, together. Whereas the first track asked for one more year, now we ask for just 60 more minutes. Parker is at his most self-reflective here. There might not be another chance at connection, he warms. “Whatever I’ve done, I did it for love. I did it for fun. Couldn’t get enough. I did it for fame but never for money!” Whether these are thoughts expressed tongue-in-cheek, they are also soaked in the mood of regret. The track showcases Parker’s skill as one of music’s best producers, as well as one of its most quizzical.
In the end, The Slow Rush is another masterpiece for Tame Impala, cover-to-cover. You know it’s the band the instant the music begins, and yet the album feels both new and necessary. The record is the mark of a rare talent, and yet also someone who lives in both doubt and curiosity amidst his talent and success. The record is unique, and it’s also connected to very American and British musical lineages, from Grand Master Flash to Kanye West to the Beatles. The Slow Rush is an investigation into how to survive, even when there’s so much abundance around and it should otherwise be so easy.