Tame Impala’s debut may have presented something with a grungy, garage rock edge, but here in their sophomore release, Lonerism, the band has gone deeper into the psych sounds that were present, even if not the focus, of that first LP. Their debut was well received, and now an appropriate just over two years later, they’re back. Unlike many other bands with successful debuts, however, Tame Impala’s sophomore doesn’t simply reiterate their debut. We instead find the band interested in different aspects of their sound. Lonerism simultaneously recalls The White Stripes and The Beatles, or perhaps something more in between, like The Olivia Tremor Control. It’s a warm, sun drenched dose of psychedelic rock, and Tame Impala manage to own the sound and present it like it’s something new.
The similarity to The Beatles may not be immediately obvious. The album opens on Be Above It, which starts off with something far more modern. “Gotta be above it,” is repeated in a husky whisper while crackling drums smack behind the vocals. However, once Kevin Parker’s lead vocals kick it, this comparison is glaringly obvious. “And I know that I gotta be above it now,” he sings, and it sounds like it could be a sample of John Lennon. This similarity doesn’t remain so bluntly strong throughout (it’s more Incense and Peppermints at points), but in a music scene of electronic sampling and supersaturated synthesizers, just the notion that we might get some smart rock and roll is welcome.
Above bouncing guitars are occasional psych breaks, warping us from one location musically to another. It can be as simple as the break that comes part way through Apocalypse Dreams. The track drops much of the melody in favor of one whining guitar and some fuzzed and blinking keys. It’s simple and transformative, and it recalls that wonderful tonality. It creates a broader sense of haze, though to avoid the connotations of this all, it should really be said that this is never drugged out. Rather, Tame Impala lead us through something that is often times quick and snappy and sometimes, like on mid-album track Feels Like We Only Go Backwards, able to slow down and sit in the moment, and more importantly, the band utilize the psych notions only to bring us closer to their discussed emotional state, one of isolation and perplexity of the seemingly simple but increasingly more obviously difficult situations around them.
The album’s title suggests a sort of affliction. Naturally, this loneliness, misunderstanding, and listlessness is the sort of topic on which rock bands thrive, and there’s no exception here. This is not to say that this notion comes off clichéd, nor even overbearing. While Parker’s lyrics are intermittently clear and concise, they’re never a point of focus, which means we don’t come away with specific imagery or ideas, but rather, the broader emotion that he’s trying to convey. This works as a strength. Though lines like, “I don’t need them and they don’t need me. I guess I’ll go home, try to be sane,” work to embellish this point, they aren’t ever enlightening enough to serve this purpose. Moreover, Parker’s lackadaisical wash of vocals stresses the emotion better than many lyrics could.
Lonerism does a fine job of switching between quicker, snappier tracks and things a bit more airy. The album holds the listener’s interest, and it remains smart throughout. Emotion isn’t the album’s strength. Though it comes across, we never do access Parker. We simply get notions of ideas that he’s working with. Of course, the way that we get theme is smart and unlike much else happening right now. For all the necessary references to psych tones, this is really just smart, playful rock with pop elements. Tame Impala have made a strong album, one not baked in any moment, and they manage to take a fun but dormant sound and turn it into something fresh.