There’s a fine line between influence and prevalence, retro-sound and retro-revival, ‘these guys sort of sound like,’ and cover band syndrome. It’s impossible for new artists today to not emanate the work of anyone who has put out an album sometime in the past, not to have been impacted by previous rock or pop records of some sort. Nor should they try to avoid doing so. We’ve seen some legendary groups and solo acts over the past 100 years that have shaped the music world into what we know it as today. Through a natural process of evolution, assisted by technological growth, we are now lucky enough to be exposed to groups around the world who have been inspired by the same rock and pop legends and grown their own music from that inspiration. However, inspiration is a tricky organism. It can result in beautiful new creations, reminiscent, but not reproductions, of the mother plant, or it can act as an invasive species and choke out all other buds of creativity in its dominance. In Lonerism, Tame Impala has succeeded in taming inspiration and diluting it within their own sound to produce something both nostalgic and current.
Tame Impala, who are based out of Perth, Australia, formed in 2007 and have been sending out singles and EPs to critical and commercial acclaim from the beginning. Throughout 2008 and 2009 they appeared as opening acts on tour with groups such as The Black Keys and The Living End, and did a few rounds on the festival route as their music was featured on the screen, in TV’s Entourage and the Academy Award nominated The Kids Are All Right. To growing anticipation, Tame Impala’s Innerspeaker was released in summer of 2010, and their first full-length album proved that their previous success was no fad. Already well-established on the Australian music scene, Innerspeaker granted the group a Rolling Stone “Album of the Year” award. Their second record, Lonerism, was released to North America in Oct. of 2012 and has since been declared NME’s Album of the Year.
With a huge list of achievements under their name, it is evident that Tame Impala is doing something right. Lonerism has the careful balance of 1960s-cool, and a current, MGMT-style buzz, mixed into the group’s own blend of psychedelic rock. The entire album carries a casual, easy-going vibe, an uncomplicated grooviness that is maintained with seemingly effortless control. There are periods where the instruments layer sleepily and, as is typical in the dream-pop tradition, some tunes tend to zone out a bit, but the drowsiness never spirals into a complete hypnosis state—in tracks like “Elephant” and “Endors Toi” the group kick the beat up just enough, at the exact time, to keep us with them.
Using inspiration to their advantage, Tame Impala’s “Keep On Lying” is an undeniable homage to The Doors, opening with simple, un-provocative lyrics, transforming into a smooth, mainly instrumental track, and closing full circle with the fading of the words. However, instead of channelling Jim Morrison completely, they update the track with their own imaginativeness by emphasizing the psychedelic background-sound style of the tune, and layering muffled chit-chat and social noises overtop of their instruments, prematurely placing the song where it belongs: in a let’s-sit-around-and-talk atmosphere. The group seems to look towards the past throughout the album. “Mind Mischief” envelopes Beatles-like simplicity in the 1970s progressiveness of Pink Floyd, but instead of getting lost in former decades, they tie it all together with their original, modern groove.
Titling their tracks is another thing Tame Impala seems to do well. “Apocalypse Dreams” has the strange, soothing-musing tone that the name suggests, and “Music To Walk Home By” is just that: relaxing enough for an easy stroll, but not so lulling as to slow you down. “Sun’s Coming Up” starts with melodic piano that echoes like dawn, and gradually shifts to lazy guitar, footsteps, and waves, altogether creating an impression of a sunrise on a quiet beach. The name of the album fits as well: in its entirety, Lonerism is a record to read, cruise, or imagine to—an album for a solitary day-dreamer.
At the rate Tame Impala are accelerating, there is no question that sometime in the future, if they haven’t already, new bands will emerge that have managed to balance the influence of the Australian group with other esteemed bands, giving us the satisfaction similar, and different, sounding tunes to enjoy. Until then we can revel in Lonerism and keep our fingers crossed that the group will venture out to B.C. sometime soon and share some of their laid-back sunshine.