Undertow: Revisiting Currents (2015)

The first Tame Impala album that I listened to was “Lonerism,” back in 2014. It was a formative time in my life: I had just entered a high school that had more than 3,500 students and I had been hit with severe feelings of isolation accompanied by long periods of anxiety. And it was Kevin Parker, Tame Impala’s main producer, who detailed every lonely and uneasy feeling that disciplined my life during that time through the songs featured on “Lonerism.” The tracks’ lyrics, “Can almost hear the fun that I should be having” and “My world is turning pages / While I am just sitting here,” resonated with me more than any book or movie did.

Having wildly overplayed the album, I was eager for the next year, when the band’s new album “Currents” would be released. On July 17, 2015, I sat alone on the subway back home, plugged in my earbuds, and impatiently waited to feel the cathartic despondency that came along with listening to a Tame Impala song. I was disappointed to find that the reverberating landscapes, anxious and idiosyncratic lyrics, and psychedelic instrumentals of Lonerism were traded in, in favor of heartbreak platitudes and over-synthesized pop tunes. The themes of isolation, depression, and rumination were gone as well. Like many other Tame Impala fans, I was dissatisfied by the completely new direction that Parker had taken, and though it eventually became the group’s most successful album, I was reminded of my disappointment every time I saw the album cover on social media.

Over the past three years, “Currents” has not changed as an album, but my opinion of it has. Albums are usually viewed as progressions; novels that precede and succeed each other. any listeners, including myself, were unhappy because the new album was presumed to be a culmination of all of Tame’s work. However, I failed to recognize that Parker is, above all else, a human being who is changing and progressing, and the album is an amalgam of growth and experimentation within his life. At some point during its production, he had ended a long-term relationship and returned to his home studio, and for this reason, the tone of the newest album is influenced by unexpected loss, and his growth from the aftereffects.

Unlike the first two albums, “Innerspeaker” and “Lonerism,” the third album was recorded and mixed without any other collaborators — its genesis was Parker’s unaccompanied journey. I see now that it’s his transitional album, not a progression of his former albums. Parker’s intention (which I had overlooked in 2015) was to create an album about transformations, i.e. the ‘currents’ and waves that move us into different periods of life. The ubiquitous label that the album gets as being about a ‘breakup’ ignores its universal theme of change, and even further, the reluctance and fear of it. And a large part of my own apprehension was manifested in my former disdain.

Just like my rabid obsession with “Innerspeaker” during my transition to high school, I started to rely on “Currents” during college. The album contains some of Parker’s most accessible and universal lyrics, but it’s his introductory single “Let It Happen” that allowed me to accept changes in my own life. Along with its pervasive lyrical message, the track is a nearly eight minute long track with one of the most euphoric endings to a song that Tame has ever produced, and it has a dazzling synth riff that intentionally skips and intensifies throughout the course of the song. A three-minute instrumental interlude. A tense build-up of drums. The fading out of atmospheric synths. From the beginning, the song indicates that “Currents” is radically different the other two albums, and it’s an auditory panorama nearing the domain of a spiritual experience.

All other songs are worth exploring and listening to as well. “The Less I Know The Better” sends us spiraling into the qualms of crippling, unconditional love. “New Person, Same Old Mistakes embodies self-awareness and ethereality in the wake of loss. “Reality in Motion” represents acceptance of the past in spite of error and regret. Neither the listeners nor Parker have vision of what tomorrow, or the next day, or the month after that will be like. Thus, he tells us to just “let it happen.”

There were so many moments when I was overwhelmed by it all. During those times, more than anything tangible, more than anything concrete, “Currents” was my retreat. And despite support from friends and family, it was Tame Impala that prevented me from getting pulled under. Everyone goes through currents, and when I go through a particularly harsh one, I repeat to myself “let it happen, let it happen,” and let it become my mantra.


Featured Image courtesy of wikipedia.org

Esther Couch

This is Esther Couch. She writes.

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