Tame Impala’s second album Lonerism is easily likened to the psychedelic rock movement of the 1960s and 70s, and that seems to be the sound that they’re going for. Unlike other contemporary psych-rock bands, which idealize the sounds of old, Tame Impala takes a vintage genre into a modern era. The Australian band out of Perth hasn’t gone for the old-school recording style; they are not revivalists, who try to create the illusion of the past. This album is not a nostalgic work- it succeeds by creating modern music, which is grounded in the wild heyday of the psych-rock genre, without becoming a forced copy of times past.
The album opens with rhythmic chanting over break beats and distorted guitars on the track “Be Above It”. The recurring drums are a continual background for frontman Kevin Parker and his John Lennon voice to wail over. Like almost all of the tracks off of Lonerism, “Be Above It” lacks traditional structure. There is no catchy chorus 40 seconds in like we’ve grown to expect from modern music. Instead, the simplicity of Parker’s lyrics parallels the constant call of “gotta be above it” (which is looped for the entirety of the song) and the driving beat (which sounds almost like it was made on a drum machine). This hypnotic repetition is contrasted by the occasional echo or distorted howl of a guitar. These interjections keep the track from becoming monotonous, and instead, create a wild, pulsing jam, and the rest of Lonerism follows suit.
The title itself, Lonerism, is deceivingly depressing. With tracks like “Endors Toi” (French for “go to sleep”), “Apocalypse Dreams”, “Mind Mischief” and “Why Won’t They Talk to Me” it’s easy to see that this album is an album that takes place inside Parker’s mind. But this state of Lonerism, to borrow the band’s own made-up word, is not a bad thing. In fact it’s the complete opposite. Tame Impala has produced an album that idealizes isolation. Their songs are, for the most part, upbeat and talk about surviving on your own and elevating above the negative stigma of being alone.
Tame Impala, with Lonerism, has created a welcome allusion to the psych-rock of the 60s and 70s without falling into clichéd nostalgia. They avoid making a contrived period piece, instead creating a memorable and modern album by combining wailing electric guitars and psychedelic themes with break beats and synthesizers. Lonerism succeeds where so many others have often failed, and for that reason, is one of the best albums of 2012.
About the reviewer:
Graham Chaney is a student currently attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and studying English literature. He spends his time reading and listening to music. He also enjoys board games, graphic novels, and baseball.