Saturday, October 9, 2010

Tame Impala: Innerspeaker (2010)



No longer a kitsch notion, psychedelia lives on today, filtered through the new capabilities and pop-historical consciousness of current rock musicians who long for an ideal of near-institutionalized mainstream experimentation, even if such a thing was largely mythical. Some bands actually experiment; some issue fervent, loving valentines to the age when everything seemed like newly forged territory. You'll find a bit of the latter in this Australian band's trippy, Beatlesque new album. It is a full-on retro move, with vocal and guitar and melodic pop doodling that will sound comfortably familiar, but it's so much fun -- and the songwriting is so solid -- that the derivative elements wash over into a respectful, personal new investigation of late '60s music. As immediate as the best power pop, as serious-minded and convincing as the tightest post-punk outfit, this is music that requires no setup, no introduction. The second you hear it, it feels like it's all in the blood.

And that sounds like a case of backward-looking fever, but it's actually the mark of extraordinary skill. I'm miffed by the idea that someone can't make a kickass record steeped in '60s artifact without accusations of unoriginality. A band like Tame Impala configures the past as a palette to draw on, and they're too young for the baggage -- political, social, musical -- inherent to their period of strongest influence. They don't necessarily know about the scenes, the pomp, the attitudes that produced Jefferson Airplane and the Doors, but they know what sounds cool, and by reliving the notion of sounding cool within a pop joy free of Airplane and Doors iconography, they render something altogether more special. It can evoke a memory while feeling alive, creating dreamlike waves.

There was a lot, as you know, both good and bad about rock music in the late '60s. For someone to filter all of that into comfort food like this -- rock & roll with cutting, vibrant energy and imagination -- is commendable. Given the band's youthful appearance, it's startling how confident and grown-up they sound when dabbling in light guitar funk on "Solitude Is Bliss" or just laid-back mod rock on "Lucidity." Each track is distinct but all share an identifiable, instantly enjoyable style. And the record only gets more interesting, brighter, niftier with each listen.

It's a mistake to suggest Tame Impala is all rejuvenated vintage and distorted Beatlemania. There's dream-pop here too, for one thing, on a pair of beautiful tracks ("Why Won't You Make Up Your Mind" and "Expectation") that offer a Jesus & Mary Chain tower of college-rock sound and even conjure up the pure, modern infatuation with beauty of a Sufjan Stevens or Owen Pallett -- and a bit of shockingly fresh U2 arena rock in "Alter Ego" -- but they also are wise enough to comprehend the sheer voltage of guitars, bass, and drums, a medium that never dates. Their melodies and performances are strong enough that all other definining characteristics are embellishment, whether they're fearlessly exploring Roky Erickson heavy (and archetypal wide-eyed '60s lyrics) on "The Bold Arrow of Time" or offering up true psych-rock epic, replete with McCartneyesque bass, on "Runaway, Houses, City, Clouds." Tame Impala's Beatles costuming is handiest less because they're soundalikes (although vocalist Kevin Parker is at times a dead ringer for John Lennon) than because they share the older band's propensity for filtering big ideas through precision and economy. A six-minute song here can pass by like nothing at all.

This album is oozing with goddamned fun; it's hard to say what the best song of the crop is. I vote either the stoned-addictive "Lucidity," with its snakelike melody and ample cool, or the closing pop bliss move "I Don't Really Mind," enough of an infectious dazzler to call to mind your favorite garage rock nugget (or, naturally, early-to-midperiod Beatles 45). Whatever. If you love rock & roll and psychedelia, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot and feel the unqualified-awesome shimmer of this fantastic record. Indie rockers need a little more of the '60s in their juice, and folks stuck in the past need to hear what the youth are up to; what better and more delightful compromise could there be?

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