Tame Impala Pairs Sharp Songwriting with Cluttered Production

Tame Impala--Lonerism-Modular--3 STARS

Courtesy Modular Records

Two months after Tame Impala released their critically acclaimed album “Innerspeaker” in 2010, frontman Kevin Parker unexpectedly announced, “Album number two is nearing potential completion already.” However, the highly anticipated project stayed in development for two years. Now, Tame Impala has revealed “Lonerism,” a solid but somewhat anticlimactic sophomore album. While Parker once again displays his ear for melodies and ability to weld together sounds from different eras, this release lacks the compositional intricacy that made “Innerspeaker” exceptional.

Through despondent lyrics and lo-fi instrumentation, “Lonerism” very effectively ties all of its tracks back to its titular subject: the many emotions that accompany inescapable loneliness. On the introspective “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?,” Parker juxtaposes his defeated voice with restrained instrumentation, wondering, “Why won’t they talk to me? / I thought I was happy.” By the end of the album, he has resigned himself to his tragic fate, as he sings, “Nothing that has happened so far has been anything we could control” over a downtrodden, echoing groove.

“Lonerism” may be a lot weepier than “Innerspeaker,” but Parker’s exceptional ear for melody has not waned in the slightest. On “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” which features a grooving bassline and Parker’s characteristic wail, he surrounds harmonically unforgettable verses with an irresistibly catchy and frequently repeating chorus. The hazy production doesn’t overpower the music, and the track manages to be lazy and relaxed without dragging. On “Elephant,” which band member Jay Watson humorously but accurately proclaimed “really sexy” in an interview with Pitchfork, Tame Impala extends its melodic prowess to the instrumentation. An entire central section is devoted toward remarkable, interweaving lines on the organ, guitar, and synth lead. The counterpoint exhibited between the driving lines creates a wall of sound grounded by a simple but churning guitar riff.

However, other tracks feature walls of sound that are not nearly as well built as the one on “Elephant.” The album’s opener, “Be Above It,” features an unimaginative broken record effect that sinks in and out of the electro-texture. Ambient noises, snare drum echoes, and wah-ing guitars all creep in and out, giving the impression that the band wanted to create an opaque rather than coherent arrangement. Similarly uninspired are “Mind Mischief,” which ends with a repetitive, sweeping whooshing noise that distracts from the music itself, and “Keep On Lying,” which tries to fuel itself on a repetitive bassline and studio laughter but ultimately runs out of steam. The four-minute-long instrumental section of “Keep On Lying” is one of several points in the album at which the music seems to stagnate and lose its momentum.

Perhaps the most daring track appears at the end. The album’s coda, “Sun’s Coming Up,” is a drunken waltz which eventually devolves into an extended instrumental outro that may be best described as a drug-induced trip to the beach. The wobbly guitars and wave-like synthesizers that soak the outro are eerily reminiscent of surf rock. On this song, Tame Impala comes dangerously close to repeating their mistake of oversaturating their sound with synthesizers, but the song is instead an intricate soundscape, and it’s a relief to know that they are still willing to take risks.

In an interview with Pitchfork, Parker said of Tame Impala’s new release, “[Innerspeaker] was a lot more restrained—I kind of just didn’t see the point in holding back, basically. I was just like, you may as well… juice it.” And juice it they did. Some of the sounds and composition on “Lonerism” are unimaginative and overpowered by effects, but Parker’s melodic talent and thematic ideas shine through the occasional mishaps.

—Staff writer Se-Ho Kim can be reached at sehokim@college.harvard.edu.

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