Tame Impala may have been forged in the familiar fires of guitar-driven psych-rock, but Kevin Parker began expanding that brief almost immediately, shifting from dank, distorted solos to widescreen, synth-swept fantasias. By the time Currents arrived in 2015, the Fremantle home-studio whiz had made his grandest leap yet, offering his particular take on outsized, club-ready pop. That meant mostly sidelining guitars and ramping up the lead role of those synths.
Parker had always made Tame Impala records as a solo endeavor, using a proper band primarily to realize songs in a live setting. Yet this third album saw him applying more painstaking control than ever before, not just playing and writing every single part but recording and mixing the entire thing as well. Even fans who had noticed Parker’s increasing pop sensibilities across 2012’s Lonerism were somewhat taken aback by Currents’ bravura opening statement, “Let It Happen,” an ambitious dance-floor epic that foregrounded glitter-bomb synths and alternately dipping and peaking rhythms. The band’s trajectory changed over the course of a single track, which stretches out over nearly eight minutes and indulges in remix-style record-skipping and lengthy stretches without vocals.
Between the disco grooves, Parker still finds time for Tame Impala’s sonic signatures—floaty vocals, soul-searching lyrics, fleeting interludes. As lush as the production is (which you can hear in the joyous vocal layering and panning on “The Moment”), the increased scope of these songs is matched by the same rich emotional content, making it feel like Parker is sharing his most private moments. From the vulnerability displayed on “Yes I’m Changing,” which muses on growing older against unironic soft-rock motifs, to his interrogations of masculinity and romance on “'Cause I’m a Man,” Parker is still committed to airing intimate, almost diary-like sentiments. Meditative album closer “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” says it all.
Still, Parker doesn’t have to distance himself from formative heroes like Todd Rundgren and The Flaming Lips in the name of artistic growth. Evoking the mirror-ball dazzle of roller rinks and discos, here he continues to cherry-pick from the past in order to imagine a sophisticated musical future that’s appealing across multiple fronts but still strikes directly at the heart. And the risky decision to shelve guitars clearly paid off: Currents took Tame Impala to the big leagues, where he could now collaborate with Lady Gaga, get covered by Rihanna (a version of “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” appeared as “Same Ol’ Mistakes” on 2016’s ANTI), and headline Coachella. It also provided a natural progression to 2020’s The Slow Rush, an even more immersive and personal synth-funk odyssey.