Tame Impala smooths edges on sophomore album

Barry Winslow

In a world where Top 40 pop hits and bass-heavy rap songs take over mainstream radio, it’s not hard to believe that psychedelic rock gets overshadowed in the music game.

The 1960s were a time when bands such as Cream, The Grateful Dead and The Doors were in their prime, ripping radio receivers nationwide and changing the music scene in the world as we know it. These times are gone, but not forgotten.

For one band today, the aforementioned groups left behind an influential sound they felt needed to be taken to a new level and expended upon. Tame Impala, a five-piece psychedelic rock outfit from Perth, Australia, have done just that.

“Lonerism,” Tame Impala’s second studio release, hit American shelves on Oct. 9 under the label Modular Recordings.

The group consists of Kevin Parker (vocals, guitar), Dominic Simper (guitar, synth), Jay Watson (synth, backing vocals, guitar), Nick Allbrook (bass) and Julien Barbagallo (drums).

Tame Impala formed in Perth in 2007. In 2008, the band signed to Modular Recordings and released their first EP, the self-entitled “Tame Impala.” This six-track album has a heavy rock sound, relying on powerful, guitar-driven structure and an overall psychedelic blues feel similar to the sounds Cream produced in the late 1960s.

It wasn’t until 2010 that the band came into prominence with the release of their first full-length album, “Innerspeaker.” The album found the band settling into a more sprawling, expansive sound.

Tracks like “Alter Ego” and “Solitude is Bliss” start with a fuzzed out, spacey feel that grows into a terrestrial blend of blues, rock and dream pop, proving to be high points on the album.

What Tame Impala does do at times on “Innerspeaker,” though, is get a bit caught up in their own expansiveness. Some moments seem to drag on and get lost, with solos and spacey drifts taking too long to reach a climax or fold back into a chorus.

Two and a half years after their debut, it’s to be expected that Tame Impala were to make some changes. “Lonerism” is tighter and more thought out than its predecessor. Parker and crew have stepped away from ultra-spacey psych-rock riffs, snipping away unnecessary sonic fillers for softer, full-bodied compositions.

No harm is done, as fans of the more visceral, hard-edged Impala sound are not let down with this more focused approach. This is a method that lets the band explore their musicality without becoming monotonous.

“Lonerism” opens with “Be Above It,” a tune drenched in trippy, melting synthesizer cues that wrap around boisterous bass guitar slaps. At first listen, this tune sounds like a Beatles song that didn’t make the final studio mastering of “Magical Mystery Tour.”

This simple-structured song blends naturally into the second track, “Endors Toi.” Acoustic guitar chords are overdubbed and manipulated with numerous pedal effects, creating a free fall sensation when coupled with squeaky organ fills.

Next up is “Apocalypse Dreams,” the albums first single. This song is a prime example of the true Tame Impala sound. Parker’s high voice soars over elongated organ chording and the smooth high hat beats delivered from Barbagallo.
The fourth track, “Mind Mischief,” is stellar. Dual electric guitars start the tune off, floating atop an eerily cool bass lick and fantastic snare rips.
Parker’s voice is dream-like, whispering “It feels like my life ready to blow/ me and my love we’ll take it slow” between the catchiest guitar riff I’ve heard from the band yet.
“Feels Like We Only Goes Backwards,” the album’s seventh track, is a slower-paced, harmonious groove with a gospel feel.
The ninth song, “Elephant,” is the hardest hitting on the record. Hints of previous hard licks like “Half Full Glass of Wine” and “The Bold Arrow of Time” are present here, but what is different this time around is that this tune is mainly synth driven.
Parker’s voice resembles John Lennon’s on “Sgt. Pepper,” but sung over a bass line that could be played on any Wolfmother song. After continuous power-chord prodding, the song abruptly comes to an end without warning.
The album’s eleventh track, “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control,” is a spaced out electronic tune.
An interesting tune, this six-minute experimental piece is outrageously explorative, but lacks direction and cohesiveness. Considering how unbelievably great the rest of the album is, this doesn’t seem to be much of a downfall.
Tame Impala has really made a name for themselves with “Lonerism.” Delivering by far one of the best albums of 2012, the only thing worrisome for the band now is how they will top this sonic treat the next time around.
Do yourself a favor and give this gem a listen. It promises to provide amazement with each and every play.