“Music Talks” is a series where Daily Music writers give their takes on the biggest releases in new music. From picking best and worst tracks to asking what makes a record tick, the Music beat is here to give praise and give shit to music worth talking about.
For better or for worse, Kevin Parker (the tie-dyed mastermind behind Tame Impala) is back. After a relatively quiet 2018 spent collaborating with the likes of SZA, Theophilus London and ZHU, Parker finally announced a new album in early 2019, The Slow Rush, and dropped a new track called “Patience” in mid-March. For some, it was like the homecoming of a friend who had spent over twelve months in Big Sur, dropping a whole lot of acid as a vehicle to find themself. That is, he is now back and better than ever. For others, it was like the return of a yacht rock nuisance cosplaying as a psych-pop-rock poseur. (For better or for worse, remember?) Since the release of “Patience,” Parker has been in full-on album-release-mode, slowly trickling out singles (as the album’s title implies). Now, he’s wrapping up several months of a press tour that has included a much-lauded performance on Saturday Night Live and an interview with Beats 1’s Zane Lowe, in which he boasted that while creating the album, he was inspired by Travis Scott (the two are mutual fans and collaborators) and shopping while stoned (a rather pedestrian activity these days).
The Slow Rush is the first massive release of 2020. Will it remain that way, or will it wash away the current of Parker’s past releases (get it?)? Find out below.
Jim Wilson, Daily Arts Writer: First and foremost, which camp do you ascribe to: Tame Impala is the force that will bring modern psychedelia to the mainstream, or Tame Impala is the force that will reduce modern psychedelia to nothing more than marijuana-tinged yacht rock?
Clara Scott, Daily Arts Writer: Well, uh, I’m a fan of Tame Impala, but I don’t think that they’re bringing psychedelia back to its former glory. However, I think that they’re doing something really interesting on this album where they’re merging psychedelia with house in a weird way. I would say I’m a fan, but I wouldn’t say that I ascribe to either camp.
Sam Cantie, Music Beat Editor: What do you mean by merging with house, may I ask?
Scott: I think a couple of tracks on this album that are more house and techno inspired than the rock foundation that a lot of Tame Impala’s previous music was influenced by, especially with the use of synthesizers and digital production.
Cantie: I can’t firmly say that I’m in either camp. Like, I’m somewhere in between because well … let me think of a reason for that … I just feel like a lot of people listen to Tame Impala without any notion of genre or what that means for the music industry as a whole. It’s more that the entity of Tame Impala is a cool thing to say you listen to at parties, or like a good conversation sparker.
Diana Yassin, Daily Arts Writer: I would say I’m a very casual fan, and I don’t think I’ve ever been very pumped about stuff that Tame Impala puts out, but whenever I see Tame Impala, I think, “hey, that’s great!’ I think they bring back psychedelia in some ways, like what Sam said, there’s a new sense of meshing new genres, like what you see rap artists doing these days. I don’t think there’s anything pure psychedelic, though.
Drew Gadbois, Daily Arts Writer: If you asked me, like, eight years ago, around Lonerism, probably would have been way more on the side of “they’re doing something really different … ”
Cantie: Wouldn’t you have been like 12?
Scott: I was the same way!
Gadbois: I think now, and it’s interesting that Clara brought up house, that it’s more synth-wave …
Gadbois: Especially this album, but also Currents. Like, Kevin Parker definitely dove deep into what he could do with his synthesizers. It kind of strayed a little too far to be called psychedelic in that way, because once you go synth-wave, you’re going into a completely different atmosphere. And, to “flex my genre knowledge,” I also heard some hypnagogic pop, which I, ya know, only know one band that falls under that genre, but … yeah, I’m probably on the latter side of things here.
Wilson: That’s definitely a round-about way of saying it.
Anish Tamhaney, Special Guest and Daily Film Editor: I think Kevin Parker has something really special, and I think the question on the longevity of Tame Impala’s impact was sort of an open one before this album came out. But I think, if anything, that question has been answered negatively by this album. I think people will not talk about Tame Impala the same way they did a year ago, a couple years ago after this album.
Cantie: Hot takes …
Scott: Hot takes.
Wilson: Whole lot of hot takes … Yeah, I’m not a fan. I think it’s a lot of yacht rock, and … yeah.
Scott: I think yacht rock is selling it short.
Gadbois: Yeah, Michael McDonald plaaaayed. You can’t compare!
Scott: Yeah, we all love Steely Dan in this house (at Daily Arts).
Q: What is your snap reaction to The Slow Rush?
Yassin: Why does every song sound the same?
Scott: Oh. well, I don’t think every song sounds the same. I really… aagh (drops phone) … really liked the first one and “One More Year.”
Cantie: Mine was that all I could hear was Kevin Parker’s voice … constantly … over and over again … you couldn’t discern anything else.
Tamhaney: It was a little too similar for my liking. A few times it took risks were either on the singles or the finale, “One More Hour,” which was one of the times I truly felt impressed. I don’t feel like that ending was earned by the rest of the album.
Scott: Yeah, the opening track and the ending track are the best ones that weren’t previously released. Anish is totally right: when he took the risk to break from his norm, those tracks were the best ones, but the rest was just filler.
Wilson: He definitely wanted to make himself the shining star. In an interview, he said that he was ready to fully embrace being a celebrity, and this album is the embodiment of that.
Gadbois: That brings up an interesting point: should certain artists, when they’re supposed to be bands, be the deciding force? I don’t even know… calling it Tame Impala seems disingenuous. It should just be Kevin Parker.
Scott: This project, yeah.
(murmuring, probably in agreement)
Gadbois: To go off of your point, he sings too much for his own good, he doesn’t let his own production shine when, a lot of times, it really should. It just seems like he’s trying to talk about something when he has nothing to talk about.
Cantie: I watched his triple j interview or whatever, and I got that vibe, one hundred percent. He was saying he listened to no other music while making this album. He was like, “Elevator music set me off” and I …
Cantie: Yeah, and when they were asking him what’s your infatuation with time and how this album plays with nostalgia and all that stuff, he was like, “I don’t know. I was kinda just thinking about it. Kinda what was just on the brain,” while I’m like, “ah I want more from you!”
Scott: It’s interesting to contrast his work as Tame Impala to the other projects he’s produced, which showcases his full skillset. Maybe it’s that his own work is clouded by his own ego…
Tamhaney: Yeah, maybe one of the consequences of being the load-bearer for an entire genre like psychedelic rock is that you think whatever you make must be forward moving or transcendent in some way. Maybe that’s a pitfall that he couldn’t get out of.
Gadbois: I feel like (Parker) has always been in his own head, especially in earlier projects, but back then he realized it wasn’t always a good thing, whereas this one, it sounds like he’s fully letting his ego shine and is not weary of how it exists in the rest of the world.
Cantie: Which is interesting, considering how he changed and tightened “Borderline” for the album. Do you think that’s consequential of the fact that he’s more in his own head for this album? Has he done anything like that in the past? Does anyone know?
Wilson: I don’t think so …
Scott: He’s had very few singles in the past.
Tamhaney: Personally, I think the original “Borderline” was masterful, so it’s weird that he did that.
Wilson: Which is a good lead into the next question…
Q: Standout tracks (good and bad)?
Tamhaney: To continue that, “Borderline,” “Lost in Yesterday” are the two standouts for me, and they weren’t even new.
Gadbois: I kind of liked “Breathe Deeper,” especially the last half of that song when it moves off into its own little section. I thought that was really a sign of when his creativity sent him in the right direction.
Yassin: I also liked “Breathe Deeper.” I feel like it had a lot of layers to it when compared to the other songs. It’s just more interesting than most of the other songs.
Cantie: I’m a huge “Lost in Yesterday” fan, but I can’t figure out if that’s because it was released as a single and didn’t get conflated with the rest of the ways that I was feeling about Kevin Parker’s voice throughout the entire album. Maybe it’s because it’s the one thing that could distinguish it, the fact that it was released as an advance single.
Wilson: I do feel like it really sticks out, though.
Cantie: Agreed, definitely my favorite song.
Scott: As I said earlier, I really love the opening track. I think the tremolo effect is really interesting and reminds a lot of nu-house like Peggy Gou. I really liked “Tomorrow’s Dust.” It leaned into the yacht rock thing a little bit. It’s weird and moves around in a way unnatural to the pop-rock thing he’s been working with.
Q: Kevin Parker said in an interview that in order to start recording a new album, he needs to feel “kind of worthless again to want to make music.” Does this idea of worthlessness ever manifest itself or is it just a dark cloud looming over the music?
Scott: (laughing) Uh no…
Tamhaney: When has he not felt worthless?
Scott: His earliest album is called Lonerism, like, are you fucking kidding me?
Tamhaney: I feel the moments of pure humility on this album, like “Posthumous Forgiveness” is a prime example of them, are otherwise few and far between. I wanted something darker even.
Scott: Some of his best music is incredibly dark, like “Let It Happen,” for example. It’s so dark and so weird. It seems like, to be crude, this entire album is like a big Kevin Parker circlejerk all over the place. Sometimes it worked, but the sad, worthless vibes never came.
Q: Is there an ideal context for this kind of music? Is it for chilling by yourself or is it playlist music fit for any occasion?
Scott: It would be great music for a restaurant …
(Several scoffs directed toward Kevin Parker)
Scott: … That’s not even a dig! It’s just the truth.
Wilson: Which is even better than a dig.
Gadbois: It’s funny, with the mention of elevator music earlier, I can understand that sort of approach without understanding why he actually did it.
Tamhaney: To literally answer your question, I’m going to call it “Wednesday Night Music.”
(Chorus of concurrence)
Cantie: You might have just done something …
Tamhaney: It’s relaxing, but not compelling enough to distract me.
Wilson: I think that’s my new term …
Cantie: My friends and I had this running joke, before this album … can this not go in the article … I shouldn’t say this … well, never mind. Basically, I used to say that I wanted to give birth to Tame Impala because it was enough of a focus thing but also vibes at the same time, but not with this album; it doesn’t distract me enough to want to listen to while going through labor.
(Lots of laughters)
Yassin: Honestly, for me, if one of the songs comes up on a playlist, I won’t skip it, I guess.
Q: Has The Slow Rush paved a new lane occupied solely by Parker, or is it just another release in the technicolor world of psych-rock? It was this big anticipated thing, and now we’re all just kind of upset with it.
Scott: Some artists, when they gain a lot of traction, which happened for Parker after Currents, the album after leans too deeply into their reputation, like a pseudo-sophomore album. After breaking out of his niche bubble with Currents, his ego and brand have eclipsed Tame Impala.
Tamhaney: As an unrelated parable, Metallica’s Metallica did something similar. It broke all records in the US and cemented their legacies, but led to their careers falling off. We don’t know if that will happen here, but I don’t think this will be in anyone’s top five, top ten …
Wilson: Top anything!
Scott: It’s disappointing.
Cantie: It’s passing.
Gadbois: It solidifies the idea that Tame Impala makes good music only when they’re inspired.
Cantie: The concept of time is just not attractive to me …
Gadbois: It’s like he didn’t know what he was going for or what he was inspired by. It felt like (Parker) thought it was just time to make something.
Wilson: Well, he did say he was inspired by shopping while stoned, so …
Scott: Oh boy…
Tamhaney: Maybe that says a lot.
Q: Where does Parker take Tame Impala from here? Does he stick with this sound for a bit or does he continue to expand his sonic palate and experiment?
Scott: From a strategic perspective, I think he’s probably going to start releasing music under his own name. I think that’d be smart, but I think he’ll just continue to release as Tame Impala.
Gadbois: I kind of hope Tame Impala pulls a Talk Talk-type of thing where he fully embraces an artsy thing. Like, I want to hear a ten minute song of an inspired Kevin Parker just jamming.
Tamhaney: Why couldn’t we get that now? I wish there were something like that.
Scott: I think he’s let the industry get to him.
Cantie: What’s interesting about him acknowledging that he’s a celebrity now, is maybe he’s trying to be more accessible and digestible and less experimental now that he reached this status?
Scott: Popular listeners have gotten used to the psychedelic sound and that style of production more than they did when he started to release music, so it’s definitely more palatable now than it used to be. Maybe he doesn’t realize that he needs to switch it up.
Q: Was it worth the wait? How does it stack up to his previous releases? We need full disclosure.
Scott: I still want answers.
Cantie: Why drop on Valentine’s Day?
Tamhaney: Good question!
Cantie: I thought about it for so long.
Gadbois: If it steals any listens from Justin Bieber, I mean, I’m OK with that. I wasn’t a huge fan of Currents, which is controversial, but this definitely does not stack up …
Cantie and Scott: Nuh-uh …
Tamhaney: I’m in the same boat. Not a huge fan of Currents, and this doesn’t even hold up to Currents.
Wilson: So we’re saying this is Parker’s worst release?
Cantie: Yeah …
Scott: It makes me genuinely sad because I was so excited, the singles were great, he’s getting more acclaim, but instead he just wants more money, so he made something that will get him more money. I think it all backfired.
Cantie: I think it’s telling that we’re not talking about the sound of the music or the album as a whole as much as we’re talking about Kevin Parker.
Q: Any final thoughts?
Scott: I think this is a group of very sad, disappointed people …
Wilson: I think so too.
Tamhaney: I don’t know if we even started out that way, but …
Cantie: We all collectively decided that we were.
Scott: It is Wednesday Night Music.
Cantie: Does anyone have any new childbirth music suggestions for me?
Tamhaney: I have so many.
Scott: Me too.
Gadbois: I could probably think of some. You need something that’s long and built to last …
Scott: Like some O.G. Herbie Hancock or something …