Strange, psychedelic sounds: Tame Impala’s ‘Lonerism’


Tame Impala are Australia’s answer to the neo-psychedelia that has long been a feature in American rock music. From the Elephant 6 bands of the 1990s, like The Apples In Stereo and The Olivia Tremor Control, right up to this year’s release by Grizzly Bear, the influence of psychedelia has gone from strength to strength. Following on from these successes, Tame Impala were going to have to do a lot to set themselves apart, and on sophomore album Lonerism, they have exceeded anyone’s estimations. The best description of the band’s sound comes from Kevin Parker, the multi-instrumentalist whose solo project the group effectively is: “a steady flowing psychedelic groove rock band that emphasizes dream-like melody”, and Lonerism is a fuzz-infused, yet remarkably catchy follow up to 2010’s Innerspeaker.

Confused and complicated relationships are the focus of Lonerism. Relationships that find the two partners feeling alone and isolated despite their connection. In ‘Keep On Lying’, Parker sings, “All I give, I then lose, maybe one day I’ll get through/There is nothing I can do, I just keep on lying to you”, keeping a secret that cannot be shared, even if with a loved one. “There is something you should know, but hell if I’d ever let it show,” though a little later on Parker makes it clear, “Please understand that it never really was love.” ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ is quite self-explanatory in the context of a relationship, whilst ‘She Just Won’t Believe Me’ proves incredibly cryptic. Clocking in at less than a minute, the only lyrics, “I never meant to see him but she just won’t believe me,” are hidden behind layers of distortion. They plainly address a lover, though what they mean is anyone’s guess. Elsewhere, there are further demonstrations of love, but the relationships are equally confused and complicated. On ‘Mind Mischief’, Parker sings “Me and my love, we’re taking it slow/I hope she knows that I love her along/I just don’t know where the hell I belong.”

Musically, there is a fusion of more pop-orientated neo-psychedelia, and the older psychedelic rock of the Jimi Hendrix variety, and Tame Impala are just as comfortable with the latter. ’Endors Toi’ illustrates the former, bearing strong parallels with Of Montreal. It’s very synth-driven, with fast drumming and a soaring guitar riff. ‘Keep On Lying’, on the other hand, fuses the two. It begins with a catchy beat and lyrics evoking an MGMT or Animal Collective song, but it quickly progresses into a three-minute, instrumental, as Parker builds layers of sound, from creepy laughter to distorted reverb, to climax with a brash and furious guitar solo. ‘Why Won’t They Talk To Me?’ is my favourite track on the album. It’s built around a simple synth line that feels like the opening to an Air song, but the drumming and an insanely catchy refrain of the song’s title builds the track into what will surely be a live favourite.

Closing track ‘Sun’s Coming Up (Lambingtons)’ is a lovely one to finish with, and a refreshing contrast to the album’s distorted synths. It’s an Elliott Smith type piano piece imagined through the eyes of Parker. Accordingly, after the first two minutes, a delay-heavy guitar part, accompanied by plenty of distorted background noise, continues until the album ends three minutes later. There is no straightforward songwriting on Lonerism. Each track takes turns you cannot predict and progresses at a relentless pace. There isn’t a weak song on the album, and to write something so consistently exciting confirms the genius of Parker that Innerspeaker hinted at. Lonerism is a brilliant second album that should thrust Tame Impala to a profile they wholeheartedly deserve, and is a strong contender for album of the year.