‘Currents’: How Tame Impala’s Psychedelic Pop Electrified The Mainstream
In its quest for a fresh start, Tame Impala’s ‘Currents’ reveals layers of hope, uncertainty and anxiety beneath its warm, inviting surface.
At first listen, Tame Impala’s Currents sounds like a light and breezy album. It’s is filled with nostalgia-inducing synths evocative of hazy summer mornings and listless afternoons. But if there’s a bittersweet aftertaste, it’s because those hazy synths obscure Kevin Parker’s melancholy lyrics.
More than anything, Currents is an album defined by a sense of longing: for change, for a sense of identity, and for a new beginning. It’s a classic album that intertwines nostalgia and doubt to encapsulate just how confusing the quest for a fresh start can be.
Released on July 17, 2015, Currents marked a departure from the more traditional psych-rock that made up Tame Impala’s first two albums. It was a DIY endeavor in the truest sense, in that it found Parker writing, producing, performing, recording, and mixing the album all while holed up in his home studio in Perth, Australia. Those efforts clearly paid off, with Currents becoming his band’s highest-charting release, earning a Grammy nomination, and refashioning Parker as a master of pop.
Balancing hope and doubt
Beyond its ever-evolving landscape of synths and dance-worthy drums, Currents is about balancing moments of hope and doubt. An instant that feels warm and fuzzy can just as immediately feel panic-inducing. “The Moment” is just one of the many pleasant sounding songs on the album that, when you really listen, hides darker layers, unfolding into contemplations on the overwhelming anxiety that you might never be ready for what’s coming next.
The 24-hour news cycle has evolved into a constant social-media circuit, now more self-perpetuating than ever before. Even if you want to break free, it’s hard to even separate yourself from it. On “Reality In Motion,” Parker feels like his heart is in overdrive, running in circles. Time seems to move so fast that you don’t even have time to gauge the severity and the impact of everything happening around you. And that leads to a sense of dread – that everything could come crashing down around you despite your best attempts to escape.
Because modern life is operating at such breakneck speed, it’s hard to know which way is up. “Past Life” describes just how hard it can be to gauge change; the person you were just a few years ago feels like someone you don’t know at all. Change is so constant that it’s hard to even trust your old self as a constant variable.
More culturally apt than ever
Throughout the album, Parker’s synths sound like they’re underwater, sometimes static and garbled. That can make the instrumentation sound inviting, but as a reflection of Parker’s emotion, it can feel like drowning. What sounds like dance music is actually reflective meditation, and that’s more culturally apt than ever.
Throughout Currents, Parker is waiting for the unidentifiable moments that can overpower. His fixation on the past prevents him from being as free as he’d like to be in the present. Combined with this doomed anticipation, it feels like he may never manage to find the release he seeks. And yet he eventually does find it “Yes I’m Changing.” “They say people never change, but that’s bullsh__t, they do/Yes I’m changing, can’t stop it now,” he sings.
On “The Less I Know the Better,” Parker describes a less-than-perfect relationship to suggest that everyone’s happier when they’re ignorant – and maybe that’s true. The world’s collective inability to be content is part and parcel of constant cultural overstimulation. And that can feel hopeless! But Currents certainly isn’t hopeless – just uncertain. The desire to change and evolve despite not knowing where it will lead you is not only the driving force of the record, but a universal theme that continues to speak to audiences today. Change might be unattainable – but it could also be just around the corner.
February 17, 2022 at 1:06 pm
How did I miss this one? More importantly is the question why has this album become relevant now? It’s charting at number 7 (as of this date) on Amazon for sales and it didn’t even make Rolling Stones Top 100 of that decade! What ever was being felt when this was recorded is resonating now maybe even with a whole new audience.