After a near five year hiatus, Tame Impala’s fourth LP was unquestionably the band’s most anticipated release to date. The Slow Rush marks a significant timestamp within Tame Impala’s existence and in modern music. It comes almost a full decade after the band’s first record, Innerspeaker, which was released in 2010. It also signals the start of the new decade, at which Kevin Parker, the Australian mastermind behind the psych-pop outfit, stands at the forefront.
It’s hard to argue against Tame Impala being the ultimate 2020 rock band, largely for the reason that, by book definition, they have hardly ever been one. Where their early records are unabashedly derivative of Parker’s psych-rock obsessions, their two latest LPs, Currents and The Slow Rush, have marked a turn to not only a new sound but a new chapter for indie at large. Over the course of a decade, their trajectory went from being one of indie’s most coveted new underground bands to an omnipresent force that fits in car commercials and on main stages at major festivals all the same. The band’s name alone now holds merit as an instantly recognizable brand of neo-psychedelic synth-pop that is inescapable in 2020 internet and playlist culture.
Where Currents made a hard pivot into a world of synthesizers and rap/R&B-influenced beat manufacturing, The Slow Rush expands upon Parker’s pop fixations without deviating too far from the formula of its predecessor. It simultaneously ventures deeper into the world of commercialized electronica while retaining the adventurous spirit of the band’s earliest recordings. While the album doesn’t sport an obvious radio hit or sound as infinitely marketable, it’s the most impeccably produced set of Tame Impala songs to date. Compared to past works, it adopts a more personal stance on themes of isolation, alienation, and love, concepts which Parker explores through the lens of time and the inevitability of change.
The Slow Rush builds its base around pop-friendly song structures and atmospheric dance beats. Over the years, as Parker has honed in and expanded his production chops to include different sounds, his ability to make complex instrumentals sound accessible has also grown. Take the incessantly groovy “One More Year,” which keeps time by way of a deep bassline and trippy vocal mash-up, or “Breathe Deeper,” a chaotic collision of synths that could pass as a rolling anthem in a nightclub or a vibey day drinking song in a beach party DJ set. Each track rests its weight upon intricate details yet in its final form is easily danceable.
Among the most memorable moments are “Borderline,” a hummable summer jam that was released last April, and “Lost In Yesterday,” a funk-infused ditty that sounds like a psychedelic version of Bad-era Michael Jackson. Both tracks feature incredibly sticky instrumentals – the guitars on “Yesterday” are played to sound like synths and work seamlessly – yet the true highlight comes by way of Parker’s songwriting. Lonerism and especially Currents showed glimpses of the unmistakable pop melodies Parker was becoming so enamored with. On The Slow Rush, he’s serving them up with confidence. Whether it’s indulging in a bizarre high on “Borderline” or confronting toxic nostalgia on “Yesterday,” Parker’s pen ends up being just as infectious as the instrumentals.
Similar to Currents, The Slow Rush is another enthralling collage of high fidelity sound, a hallmark for smooth studio production. Absent from the tracklist is the instant blockbuster song a la “Elephant” or “Let It Happen.” One doesn’t need those to enjoy the record, but it could be argued that having a few songs in that vein would elevate the album beyond its presentation as an immaculately-produced mood piece. Yet that’s clearly not the intention behind The Slow Rush. Instead, the album works better as a trance-inducing soundtrack for getting unspeakably high.
In this regard, the record is far less climactic than past Tame Impala works. There are times when the song narratives get painfully trivial, like on the catchy albeit annoying “Instant Destiny.” Subsequently, the instrumentals on tracks such as “Is It True” and “Is It Time” become repetitive after the charm of their initial groove wears off. Less meandering is the dreamy “On Track,” which melds shades of classic psychedelia with Parker’s own take on power balladry.
In terms of advancing the “Tame Impala sound,” The Slow Rush succeeds. It may not be the best Tame Impala record but it is one of the most interesting. Its sound is so modern, it isn’t hard to picture a world twenty years from now where it still feels fresh or at least, nostalgic in an inviting way. At its core, it’s a compelling segway into Kevin Parker’s next phase of production gimmicks, genre-mashes, and great songs.