Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker has carved out a reputation for himself as something of a psych-rock revivalist. Tame Impala’s first album, Innerspeaker, combined Parker’s knack for melody with propulsive, crisp rhythms, endless washes of reverb, and fuzzed-out guitars. (The fact that his voice is a live ringer for John Lennon’s has only encouraged comparisons to the Beatles’ psychedelic period.) But as Parker sings on the fourth track of Currents, “Yes, I’m changing, can’t stop it now.” Opener “Let It Happen,” an eight-minute ramble, announces, with no bones, the shift from Lennon-inflected psych-rock to warped, glossy disco that stops just short of being danceable.
“Let It Happen” is a microcosm of the album as a whole, and, notably, guitar riffs are supplanted by finely etched beats complete with finger snaps and brassy synths. Although lyrically Parker passively encourages merely letting the event or change “happen,” musically the track demonstrates a greater potential for metamorphosis, when what starts as a repetitive glitch becomes the new beat for the song’s final stretch, which finds Parker layering his sweet falsetto over Vocoder vocals. And if there’s nothing on “Let It Happen” that actually sounds like a guitar, the instrumental origins of the many weird sounds throughout the album remain hazy; Parker has said he delights in making “guitars sound like synths and drums sound like drum samples.”
If we haven’t yet gotten the hint that Parker is declaring himself a hybrid producer/musician on the level of Jamie xx or James Murphy, he drives it home with “Nangs,” the first of Currents’s lyric-less interludes. Somewhere in between a sonic sketch and a fully realized track, “Nangs” (like the later “Gossip”) is an exploration of texture, a small showcase for Parker’s impeccable production. “Gossip” features a little plucked guitar line reminiscent of a sitar, but it’s more of a wink toward his previous influences than a consolatory gesture to fans pining for less pop-oriented material. “Yes, I’m changing,” Parker sings, but he adds, “if you don’t think it’s a crime you can come along with me.”
It’s a persistent myth that there’s an easily discernible line between “authentic” and “inauthentic” music, resulting in sides in which instruments reflect some essentialized value—as if the banjo is inherently more “real” than a synthesizer. On “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” Parker goes on the offensive against such views: “I know that you think it’s fake/Maybe fake’s what I like/Point is I have the right.” Although Currents is, in many ways, a showcase of difference (from his previous guitar-driven efforts, from some previous influences, even from other recently successful forays into disco-pop such as Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories), Parker also toys with repetition as a unifying theme, sonically and lyrically. Those songs that deal in the banal dissolution of romantic relationships— such as the standout “Eventually,” the ironic ode to masculinity “’Cause I’m a Man,” (in which Parker admits, “Saying sorry ain’t as good as saying why/But it buys me a little more time”), and the funky “New Person, Same Old Mistakes”—ask whether endless flux isn’t, after all, the same thing as stasis. Currents, as an album, suggests otherwise.