Psych album of the week: Tame Impala’s Lonerism (2012)

“I’m always trying to find the craziest sound, you know—the thing that sounds the least like it comes from Earth.”


Tame Impala, Lonerism


The English band Spacemen 3 once released an album called Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To, which is an amusing title and probably pretty accurate as far as Spacemen 3 was concerned. Of course, you don’t have to take any drugs to enjoy music; music is arguably its own kind of mind-altering substance. For those so inclined, however, we offer the following as a must-hear.

Tame Impala’s 2012 album Lonerism finds Kevin Parker at an interesting place in his musical evolution. The Australian musician had already established himself as one of the leaders in a psych-rock resurgence that was started to bubble up in the indie-music underground.

So prodigiously triptastic was the music found on Tame Impala’s self-titled 2008 debut EP and 2010 full-length Innerspeaker that it prompted some smart-ass rock critic at the Georgia Straight to write the following:

This guy we know just emailed us a bunch of MP3s and a pretty impressive back story to go with them. We quote: ‘Dude, this might be the gravity bong of White Widow I just hoovered talking, but this is some of the best shit I’ve ever heard. In 1968, George Harrison and Syd Barrett got together at Abbey Road, dropped some microdot, and started jamming while they were tripping balls. Luckily, someone was rolling tape, and now, 43 years later, we can finally hear some of the best psychedelic music ever made, complete with Beatles-esque melodies and interstellar-overdrive atmospherics. Fire one up and enjoy it, maaaaan!’

(Full disclosure: That smart-ass rock critic was yours truly.)

Moving toward indie pop

While no less psychedelic than Parker’s previous output, Lonerism seemed less rooted in the ’60s. The acid-etched melodies of tracks like “Why Won’t They Talk to Me?” and “She Just Won’t Believe Me” were awash in pastel synth tones. While this gave the songs an extra layer of final-frontier spaciness, it also signalled Parker’s move toward the straight-up indie pop that would mark later Tame Impala releases. (Maybe we should have taken him seriously when he was telling anyone who would listen that he had an entire album’s worth of songs just waiting for Kylie Minogue.)

As Parker told some dude writing for Concrete Skateboarding Magazine in 2013 (and, yes, that dude was also me):

I’m always trying to find the craziest sound, you know—the thing that sounds the least like it comes from Earth. It’s really difficult to do that with guitars, because whatever you do with a guitar, it’s usually going to end up sounding like a guitar. It’s going to have that kind of earthy, rock ‘n’ roll feel. But with synthesizers, they just start in a completely different place. It was just really kind of exciting to have this whole new playing field of sounds and emotions.

Standout tracks

The fuzzy pomp-stomp of “Elephant”; the shimmery pop tones of “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”; and “Why Won’t They Talk to Me?”, which is what synth pop would sound like if John Lennon had invented it in 1969.

Sonic psych-out

The intro to “Endors Toi” is a miniature masterpiece of psychedelia in its own right, with phased-out guitar jangles and mind-warp synth drones setting just the right pupil-dilating mood.

Trippiest lyrics

“Soothing repeat/I look down at my feet/It’s a hypnotist’s arm/And it works like a charm” (“Endors Toi”)

“This could be the day that we push through/It could be the day that all our dreams come true” (“Apocalypse Dreams”)

“He pulled the mirrors off his Cadillac/’Cause he doesn’t like it looking like he looks back” (“Elephant”)

In their own words

“I’m always surprised whenever someone tells me Tame Impala reminds them of getting blazed,” Parker told the Guardian in 2012. “I never think my own music is druggy at all. Sometimes it helps. I don’t wanna say it’s a requirement. For me, it’s like doing high jump at an athletics carnival: if you can do it without drugs, that’s good. If you can get higher with drugs, that’s great. But if you need drugs to get to that bar in the first place, that’s not right. It should be in you regardless. People’s imaginations and dreams are more fucked-up than drugs; it’s just the sound of music in my head.”

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