Tame Impala mastermind Kevin Parker loves sonic trickery, and Currents is filled with it. The synths bend woozily in an out of tune, there are nifty filters on some of the drums, and practically every moment is drowned in an ocean of phaser, reverb and echo. Unlike past Tame Impala albums, guitars are largely absent here, meaning that there’s nothing as urgent and rocking as, say, the 2012 hit “Elephant.” Instead, the songs sound as if they have emerged from out of a sleepy haze, like a hypnagogic hallucination.
These psychedelic soundscapes are in stark contrast to Parker’s lyrics, which could scarcely be more raw and nakedly emotional. Currents is a breakup album, and the sentiments are unflinchingly confessional : Parker coos that “There’s no future left for you and me” on the bleary synth plod of “Yes I’m Changing,” while the funk-tinged soul grooves of “The Less I Know the Better” act as the canvas for a pained portrait of romantic disappointment, as Parker sings, “She was holding hands with Trevor / Not the greatest feeling ever / Said, ‘Pull yourself together / You should try your luck with Heather.’”
Nearly every song echoes similarly heartbroken sentiments: “‘Cause I’m a Man” plays off gender binarism to explain personal weakness, the skulking “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” dwells on the inevitability of failure, and the “Rasputin”-gone-prog disco epic “Let It Happen” finds Parker resigning himself to disaster.
The emotional core of the album is “Past Life,” which matches wistfully nostalgic synths — which sound like they were ripped from a half-remembered John Hughes film — with a pitch-dropped spoken narrative about seeing an ex in public. It’s a shamelessly corny but genuinely effecting track, and the speaker muses about whether his ex still has the same phone number before we hear a ringing tone and the sound of a woman picking up on the other end of the line.
Like much of Currents, “Past Life” has absolutely no subtlety, but it’s Parker’s willingness to wear his heart on his sleeve that makes the LP a heartfelt masterpiece rather than just a catchy collection of trippy sounds. The constant cloudy-headed experimentation gets a little exhausting over the course of the album’s 13-track, 52-minute runtime, but the lyrics provide the lucid emotional core that keeps these spacey songs grounded.
Review by Alex Hudson