Tame Impala’s first album – 2010’s Innerspeaker – was a solid example of retro-futuristic psychedelia. What it lacked in memorable tunes it made up for with its propulsive energy and musical derring-do. Nothing on Innerspeaker, however, could have prepared the listener for the melodiousness, inventiveness and sheer brilliance of its follow-up, Lonerism.
Tame Impala (essentially frontman/songwriter Kevin Parker and a selection of hired hands) still make music that exhibits the freewheeling, exploratory and, yes, druggy qualities of psychedelia. Innerspeaker seemed most clearly indebted to the swirling, squalling music of The Verve back when their name wasn’t prefixed with the definite article.
Lonerism is a markedly less aggressive record than Innerspeaker. Parker has claimed that during the making of Lonerism he became “obsessed with cheesy pop melodies”, and it shows. Its key influences are drawn from the gooier, poppier end of the psychedelic spectrum: the naivety of the Nuggets compilation, the pastoral end of The Kinks’ output and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Even at its rockiest – as the on the lead single Elephant – it rocks gently.
What’s particularly impressive is not just the prevalence of earworms on this album, it’s also the band’s new-found concision, which keeps eight out of twelve tracks under the five-minute mark; even the mighty Apocalypse Dreams – an epic in three seamless movements – clocks in at under six minutes. This is a dense, richly layered album but it’s not a self-indulgent one.
Aural pleasure lurks in every corner of Lonerism. Be Above It – which begins with the title repeated over and over with the urgency of a motivational mantra before intergalactic synths pummel the song into gorgeous submission – is a perfect opening statement of intent. Mind Mischief is anchored by head-nodding, John Bonham-esque drums and closes with a flurry of stereo-panning effects that would be perfect for showing off the stereo system in a space age bachelor pad.
Why Won’t They Talk To Me? resembles the music The Strokes ought to be making in 2012. Feels Like We Only Go Backwards sounds like the kind of song John Lennon and Paul McCartney might have produced had they been on friendlier terms in 1969. Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control deploys a trick last used to any notable effect in There’s More To Life Than This from Björk’s Debut, whereby a muffled middle eight transports the listener outside the room in which the song is being performed.
An unexpected influence on the album is the chillwave act Toro Y Moi, whose Stereolab-meets-Henry Mancini album Underneath The Pine was one of last year’s highlights. Here it’s evident not just in Parker’s winsome, multi-tracked vocals (which at times sound remarkably similar to those of Toro y Moi’s Chazwick Bundick) but also in the gauzy instrumentation and hazy production.
Another record that Lonerism recalls is Since I Left You, the 2001 opus by fellow Australians and label-mates The Avalanches: not so much in its sound but in its spirit. Like Since I Left You, Lonerism occasionally feels like the playlist of a radio station at the end of the world.
It’s indicative of the broad appeal of Lonerism, an album that’s likely to appeal to fifty quid blokes who’ll dig the retro influences, people to whom the term ‘chillwave’ actually means something, dance fans and everyone in between. An album of the year contender.