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Why It Mattered: Tame Impala – ‘Currents’

If one of music’s most brilliant minds completely dismantled their creative output to rebuild from scratch, what would the end product look like? If a sonic that had previously navigated the complexities of alienation were to suddenly cast itself into society, would it hold the same tormented genius? Five years ago, Tame Impala spun these questions into an artistic renewal like no other.

As a result, the solitary Perth-based artist would be thrust onto the world stage, his toil sung by thousands, and Currents would boast the voice of a decade.

Where 2010’s Innerspeaker and 2012’s Lonerism rattled with anxiety, Currents burns. The record stands as a monolith of separation, reflecting triumph back to a past that underestimated him. More simply, it was the artist’s decision to dive into the glossy oasis of pop.

Skirting the corners of psych-rock, disco, and indie, frontman Kevin Parker does nothing to hide his artistic intentions. Currents was a renewal, a restoration to the detailed canvas he had previously tried to build. The record cast the sound of Tame Impala into the mainstream and allowed it to simmer there for a while, opening up a universe of future possibilities for the artist. Unfurling from the complex mind of Tame Impala, Currents was the band’s dawn.

tame impala, currents, 5 years
Photo: Venla Shalin/Redferns/Getty Images

On July 17th 2015, Tame Impala released the record that would disrupt music as we knew it.  Currents boasts this legacy on all levels: challenging the authority of guitar within rock, the dissolution of identity, transposing disco-psych into mainstream indie. What emerged was a sound that would define an entire decade.

Kevin Parker has never been one to conceal a message. While his meticulous process may assume a level of enigma or inaccessibility around his work, the sequence of Currents’ 13 tracks is exposition enough. You are immediately aware of the narrative Parker in unwinding: an allegorical coming-of-age tale spun within the velvety walls of psych-rock.

In pure Tame Impala fashion, each song boasts the weight of a cinematic universe. The record’s nearly eight-minute opening Let It Happen drives self-destructive patterns through the track’s iconic linear beat, false record jumps, rock-adjacent hooks, and dreamy vocal interludes. Enter Nangs, the obvious progression. The album is promptly spun from the behavioural into the sensory. Where Let It Happen gazed upon an unchained life from above and sung about what it saw, Nangs charts a soundtrack to the experience itself.

Currents documents Parker’s own introspection; a continual tussle between reality and emotion. Tracks such as Gossip and Past Life unleash a weather of feeling, bleeding with undercurrents of anxiety, hope, and majesty. Eventually and The Less I Know The Better serve to ground the record, bringing the audience and Parker back into the present. Bass-driven melodies bind us to the earth, while anecdotal lyricism unfurls our protagonist’s story in addictive bounds.

It is this balance that allowed Tame Impala to cast itself into the pop sphere. While Innerspeaker and Lonerism paint solitary auras and hallucinogenic dreamscapes, Currents is a project that glistens through intricate details, inviting the audience every step of the way. It’s no surprise that the record debuted at number one on the Australian and Dutch charts, went Platinum on the ARIA charts, debuted at numbers three and four on the UK and US charts respectively, and moved 50,000 album units in its first week. Five years on, triple j listeners even voted The Less I Know The Better the best song of the entire 2010s. 

Numbers, however, don’t accumulate the weight of what Parker created in Currents. Instead of opting for worn production, he was able to unfurl hallucinogenic enigma within clean lines. Rather than submerging audiences in ambience, he slowly builds up our tolerance to allow himself more sonic freedom. It’s a masterpiece of psychedelia made accessible for the masses, a technique that critiques celebrated shortly after the release.

Currents is “the purest — and most complex — distillation of everything that makes the band such a nearly physical pleasure to listen to,” Spin Magazine’s Harley Brown wrote back in 2015. “The real magic of Currents, though, is in how Parker so effectively (and genuinely, for the most part) manipulates the listener’s emotions without necessarily revealing any himself.”

Over the space of 51-minutes, the record traces a journey from reclusive bitterness, through affirmations of hope, into to a resolution that feels clear but desolate. The 55-second, production-based interlude Gossip lends itself directly to Parker’s study of the sensory versus the physical, evoking the perfect anxious tension to drive the record’s unstable second half.

Let It Happen to Eventually painted a decision for change over a background of insecurity. The Less I Know The Better to New Person, Same Old Mistakes is the movement; detailing every frayed, bruised, and broken episode in the journey. As our protagonist steps outside the reaches of comfort, we find him retreating to the solidarity for respite. Potentially the record’s dreamiest tracks, Past Life and Disciples unveil exactly that. However, as each swell becomes richer and Parker’s bass grows louder, we see this crutch slowly begin to unravel. The artist realises that his past habits can no longer trail behind him if he plans on moving forward.

Reality In Motion floods our scene with a refreshed energy, a sign that he has finally arrived. It still feels like Tame Impala, but sharper, more vibrant than the one we knew before. It’s four-minutes of psych-rock bliss, but high on self-reformation. Enter Love/Paranoia and New Person, Same Old Mistakes, our moody conclusion. Parker has reached the end only to find that it is not the haven he once imagined. Fantasies are disillusioned, and reality once again takes its insidious place.

As the record’s final song fades into obscurity, the listener doesn’t know whether to stay melted into their surrounds or press rewind. It’s the once reclusive artist reaching into life, only to find himself as isolated as before. With the same energy that led Fiona Apple to write one of her biggest hits in only 45-minutes, Tame Impala accepted the transition needed for the public to completely appreciate his lush sonic creations. In doing so, Kevin Parker forged a legacy for all psych-aligned projects after him: the ability to mould emotions rather than embed them.

In making Currents, Parker whittled detailed tracks into foundations. He built a journey of self on the set on a Grecian tragedy, melting a lifetime’s worth of meaning into a track that feels as palatable as its pop contemporaries. It’s like the medicine your Mum hid inside sweets so you would take it.

Five years on, the album still stands as a psych-rock’s cinematic opus. Metaphors woven through intricate melodies; the album is a force that sees its creator unveil his career through neon-tinted glass. Throw a complete artistic disarmament, disruption of genre, and creative vendetta into the mix and you have Currents: Tame Impala’s conceptual renaissance.

Give the album a listen here.