Kevin Parker's legendary musical project graces our ears once again with another helping of catchy, psychedelic pop.
Originally published on 2/17/20.
Kevin Parker has been a busy man. In the nearly five years since he released his masterpiece Currents under the name Tame Impala, he has collaborated with Travis Scott, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, and others. He has gone on three worldwide tours. He dealt with the loss of a great deal of expensive gear in the 2018 California wildfires. He even got married last year. So it’s not really much of a surprise that this new album, The Slow Rush, took so long to come out.
Whenever there’s a particularly lengthy span between albums, with the anticipation for the next project always comes some level of anxiety that it won’t live up to expectations. Thankfully, The Slow Rush puts those worries to rest. It is primo Tame Impala, yet another showcase of Kevin Parker’s seemingly endless well of creativity. Continuing the evolution of his one-man musical project’s style while still maintaining that signature psychedelic pop rock sound, The Slow Rush feels like the natural next step from 2015’s excellent Currents.
When Currents was released, it was a jarring sonic leap from his past records Innerspeaker and Lonerism. While those first two records showcased a noticeably Beatles-inspired psychedelic rock sound – a comparison supported by Parker’s distinctly Lennon-esque falsetto – Currents headed in an almost completely different direction, largely eschewing the use of guitars for vintage synthesizers. Parker set out to make music that would be heard in clubs, and he succeeded with flying colors without diminishing his creative songwriting and production abilities in the slightest.
The Slow Rush continues Currents’ trend of mixing live instrumentation with heavy synthesizers, but goes further still with it. One of the most notable sonic additions on this new album is the inclusion of bongos, which show up on roughly half of the twelve tracks here. Parker manages to work them into his music quite seamlessly, though, helping to enhance the stronger-than-ever disco influence on some of these songs. Beyond that, Parker brings back many of the psychedelic rock sounds that he built his name on at the beginning of the last decade; guitars, in particular, have much more of a presence here than on Currents.
Sonically, the album is a well-produced, well-crafted amalgamation of everything from sunny 60’s acoustic pop (“Tomorrow’s Dust”), to chart-topping 70’s disco (“Is It True”), to 80’s British new wave (“Lost in Yesterday”), to a bit of early 90’s IDM (“Glimmer”). There’s even a moment at the end of the track “Instant Destiny” that brings to mind Ernest Hood’s classic electronic ambient record Neighborhoods. As always, Parker writes, performs, records, produces, and (as with Currents) mixes all the music entirely by himself; The Slow Rush is yet another showcase of Parker’s incredible attention to detail in every aspect of music creation. Synthesizer arpeggios flutter as percussion pounds and funky bass washes over the listener (“Borderline”). An artificial piano plinks while The Wall-esque guitars crunch and drum fills weave in every direction (“One More Hour”).
Lyrically, the album is mostly typical Tame Impala; somewhat cryptic lyrics about love and relationships are frequent on The Slow Rush, and they are as compelling and well-written as ever. However, there is a noticeable focus on the concept of time and the way it affects emotions and relationships, giving the album a rather strong conceptual flow. And, as always, Parker pairs these lyrics with endlessly catchy vocal melodies that burrow their way into your brain almost instantly. There’s nary a song on this album that isn’t chock-full of memorable lyrics and melodies.
With all the strong writing on The Slow Rush, though, its lyrical crown jewel has to be “Posthumous Forgiveness.” The song is essentially a message to Parker’s father, who passed away during the recording of 2010’s Innerspeaker after a battle with cancer. Parker had a rather strained relationship with his father due to a separation and subsequent divorce from his mother when Parker was very young. Additionally, his father, who was a musician on the side, worriedly tried to discourage him from making music his profession, telling him that “it would be just like a job.” The lyrics in the first half of “Posthumous Forgiveness” are rather resentful, detailing Parker’s rejection of the things his father told him while he was growing up. The musical bed is appropriately dark, too, a vague callback to Aerosmith’s “Dream On.” The second half of the song is much lighter and more poignant, though, expressing forgiveness and wishing his father could hear and sing along to the music he’s made. The accompanying instrumentation is accordingly happier and more hopeful-sounding, as well. It’s easily one of the best songs he’s ever written.
As great as this album is, though, it’s not perfect. Some musical passages just aren’t as gripping as others, making a small handful of songs sound somewhat less satisfying and memorable than they ought to be. The two-minute interlude “Glimmer” is noticeably less sonically detailed and interesting than the rest of the record. It also doesn’t really add much to the project as a whole, especially since it’s inexplicably placed as the penultimate track on this album. Additionally, while nearly every individual track is fantastic, the album doesn’t seem like it has quite the amount of cohesiveness or lasting impact that Parker’s last projects had; though, of course, only time will tell. Regardless, these are rather minor problems; The Slow Rush is still a wonderful record despite these flaws.
The Slow Rush continues Parker’s streak of writing memorable psychedelic pop with an amount of attention to sonic detail and arrangement that makes you wonder how just one person did all of it. Parker takes the major sonic shift he made with his 2015 masterpiece Currents and updates it even further, mixing the heavy synthpop sound of that album with some of the prominent psychedelic rock influences of his earlier work, while adding in quite a few new elements and influences, as well. Some tracks don’t hit quite as hard as others, and it may not end up leaving as much of an enduring footprint as previous Tame Impala albums have. However, after a nearly five-year wait, The Slow Rush does not disappoint; it is yet another superb release from the Australian one-man band.
Listen to The Slow Rush on Apple Music or Spotify below.