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Tame Impala’s Elusive Psych-Pop Experiment

Feb. 25, 2013
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If there’s a bellwether to determining a buzz band’s future, it lies in the sophomore record. Poor responses to follow-up albums have sunk many promising careers (look at Clap Your Hands Say Yeah or Tapes ’n Tapes), while enthusiastic ones have brought in wider audiences that’ll stick around for ages (e.g. LCD Soundsystem and The Hold Steady). The anxiety a band feels wondering which side of that line it will end up on can hinder its creative output. The focus on meeting expectations can mean less attention gets paid to the actual artistic process.

Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker didn’t have to worry about that pressure when working on the band’s follow-up to 2010’s Innerspeaker, in part because there was no pressure. Tame Impala’s first record was still weeks away from being released when he began its follow-up, and even once it came out, it took a while to build a following. With no expectations and a fresh mindset to approach his next work, Parker set his sights on expanding Tame Impala's sound as much as possible. It took an arduous two years to finish, but 2012’s Lonerism did just that. The album eschews much of the late ’60s-early ’70s psych-rock derivativeness that pervaded the band's debut and incorporates more influences and instruments. Parker attributes the expanding textures to a new attitude toward his music.

"I was more open to making pop melodies and not just psych-rock," Parker explains. "I wanted to sing the melodies I was dreaming of, and the melodies I was dreaming of were poppy. I really love pop music, but I've had too much indie snobbery to do it. This time I just didn't give a shit. I wanted to make the music I wanted to listen to, which was fucked-up, psychedelic pop music."

Not everyone buys into Parker’s crazy dream songs, at least not at first. He calls Lonerism a “grower,” and it’s not difficult to see why. The washes of synthesizer, the sometimes static drums and the lo-fi fuzz leave listeners foggy and hypnotized after the 50-minute run time, not quite sure of what they’ve just heard. Some listeners dismiss it immediately, while others find themselves returning to unravel its mysterious qualities.

"Even my girlfriend said that when she first heard Tame Impala she didn't think it was that great,” Parker admits. “She thought the sounds were cool, but she didn't think the songs were very good."

Those who do return to Lonerism find that its initially elusive pop melodies can be utterly infectious the second or third time around. It’s telling of Parker’s ability as a songwriter. "The chords, melodies and sounds just need time to fester in your soul. They need time to latch onto you. They're like little parasites that grow in you,” Parker chuckles. “My melodies are parasites."

At its core, Lonerism sounds like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for the Internet generation. It’s a lush, trippy record, and Parker’s echoing falsetto could easily double for John Lennon’s. It’s also a coming-of-age album about realizing that one can be happy and, at the same time, not want to fit into society. Those feelings permeated Parker’s life these last two years. Although he brings a full band on tour, Parker essentially wrote and recorded Lonerism by himself. He believes that this seclusion contributed to a more sincere album.

"Different parts of yourself come out when you’re making music alone rather than making music with lots of people,” Parker notes. “It's not necessarily better or worse; it's just different. I prefer to work alone because I can be more honest with the music and let deeper parts of myself come out."

And, of course, when you’re all alone, there’s no one to question the eccentricity of the tunes that pop into your dreams.

Tame Impala headline a sold-out show at Turner Hall Ballroom on Sunday, March 3 with The Growl. Doors open at 7 p.m.



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