I think we can all agree that “surreal” is an overused word.
On the other hand, it’s often the only word that fits. Like now. I’ve been dozing on and off during this flight from Chicago to Seattle. (I hope I’m not snoring; I am now a snorer, I’m told.) Anyway, the surreal part is that the flight tracker website insists that I’m on a flight from Seattle to Chicago. No amount of refreshing my browser changes this vaguely sinister Lynchian narrative. The little plane icon doesn’t move, but it appears to have left Seattle and traveled east until this very moment: stalled out, pointed east, and hovering over the place where Montana meets the Dakotas.
It’s odd, too, because this flight left Chicago and headed north for a while. I couldn’t get my head to register the spatial implications of Lake Michigan off the right side of the plane.
So, yeah, for all I know, this is some “Lost” kind of situation. Adding to the weirdness, the flight attendant keeps smiling at me like she knows me — or maybe like she feels sorry for me or like I have food in my teeth. Something.
I hope this missive makes it out before I disappear forever.
Regardless of which direction I’m flying or which dimension I’m inhabiting, I can tell from looking down roughly where I am. These are the borderlands. Flat squares of white snow and resting giant plots of agriculture are giving way to rocky jutting dinosaur spines and and little rivers like varicose veins. This is the transitional land, between east and west.
I’ve been feeling really bad about my Tame Impala piece the other night. I was wrong. I don’t want to pull the piece, but I do want to share the following amendment.
I’ve heard “The Slow Rush” a lot since my first listen on Thursday night. It was on repeat at work the next day. I played it in my car, navigating the miserable rainy streets of Seattle. I’ve had it on repeat all during this Seattle-to-Chicago/Chicago-to-Seattle/Reality-to-The Black Lodge flight. At least the coronavirus won’t enter through my ears.
There are movements inside of any good record, and they’re the kind of movements you might not catch at first. You might not pick up on them for years. I’m starting to hear a few of them in this record.
Lots of good records sound really bad at first. It ends up being part of their strength: they know how to hold something back, like extended release drugs that keep you medicated for a long time rather than giving you all the active ingredients in one giant burst.
But that all sounds like I’m making excuses. I’m going through this track by track. Join me, won’t you?
“One More Year”
This song is way more interesting than I gave it credit for first time around. Kevin’s vocal melody is maybe the highlight. It’s unstructured in a really cool way, not a sing-song-y melody (except for the hooky parts, which are hooky in a subtle way). It’s a more fluid, more natural kind of singing. Honestly, it’s nice to hear his voice again after all the auto-tuning of the last record and even the recent live stuff (yes, he’s using auto-tune live. And I don’t begrudge him that at all. Someone who is this much of a sonic perfectionist has his reasons.) After listening to this song enough times, I’ve finally realized that it’s based on a 14-count structure, and that is subdivided into a measure of six followed by two four-beat measures. Counting it that way helped me get grounded in what this song is doing. This song is a highlight. Unlike a lot of the record, it doesn’t sound overly labored.
This one still feels like a throwaway to me. A little too smooth, a little too meandering. But…Kevin* has always done stuff like this. He has a very odd sense of sequencing. The second track on “Currents” is even more of a throwaway than this one (though I’ve grown to love it). And his live sets have always been riddled with weird detours into half-baked instrumentals at the most inopportune moments. This used to drive me crazy, but I’ve come to appreciate it. It’s weirdly charming. But this song…I hate to feel the urge to skip the second track. Usually a very bad sign.
*Sorry for all the first name stuff. I don’t know what else to call him. Mr. Parker?
Does anyone know why he chose to put this on the record and leave “Patience” in the purgatory of non-album singles? Cuz I think I like “Patience” a little better.
I just noticed, btw, that the album version and single version are slightly different. One has crunchier drum sounds. One is a little longer. Must study this more when I have time.
I know this song is important, but I don’t enjoy listening to it. It’s got some touching sentiments; if I’m hearing it right, he’s wishing his dad were still around so he could share this amazing life he’s created. He wants to tell him about having met Mick Jagger. He’s still trying to make his dad proud. That’s oddly specific and really genuinely emotionally resonant. Maybe I’ll come around on this one. Maybe not. It chokes me up; I just don’t like how it sounds.
Coming off being pissed about his dad in the previous track, I like the first line of this one a lot: “If you think I couldn’t hold my own, believe me: I can.” This song moves into the middle part of the album. It is the Slow Rush equivalent to “The Moment” on “Currents.” My brother hears some Hall and Oates in this one (specially, “I Can’t Go For That”). I don’t hear that song, but Hall and Oates is an interesting reference point for Tame Impala, just like Supertramp and Todd Rundgren. Man. What a weird bunch of influences. A real rogue’s gallery! A veritable murderer’s row! I don’t know. This song is good, in a middle of the record kind of way. It’s better than “Instant Destiny.” I really like the snippet of a ghost song at the end. I go for that kind of stuff.
I like this one. The role it plays on the record reminds me of that weird-is acoustic-ish song toward the end of “In Rainbows.” You know the one I’m talking about, right? I like the smooth L.A. vibes here, and I like that just as they’re about to get old he brings in some acoustic drums. Let’s never forget: dude is a real tasty drummer. Also good to hear some straight up acoustic guitar. Not sure I can think of too many other instances of that in the Tame Impala catalog. Weird coda with flashback to previous track, but, again, I’m a sucker for that stuff.
Let’s take a short break to a) Humbly request that no one ever, under any circumstances, removes his or her footwear on a flight and b) LOOK AT THIS SHIT! THIS DOES NOT MAKE ME FEEL BETTER.
OK, back to the program. I think I would have advised Mr. Parker to edit this one out altogether. It’s kind of the same color as “Posthumous Forgiveness,” same beige-pink mid-tempo-to-slow stuff. It doesn’t do much or really go anywhere. It’s got Elton John lighters-held-up-in-a-stadium vibes. I might come around on this one. It might be great in a way that’s too subtle for me right now.
“Lost in Yesterday”
Same rhythmic conceit as “The Moment,” and I don’t blame him. It’s a worthy groove. I spy some real bad lyrics in this one. Again, mid-record moments.
“Is It True”
That groove man! This is Slow Rush’s equivalent to “The Less I Know The Better.” A mid-late record song that comes out of nowhere with a groove that makes it an instant contender for best single on the record. Almost as hook-y as the groove is the vocal cadence in the chorus. I’ll go out on a limb and say that somewhere on this planet, someone at this very moment is dancing to this song. That vocal in the chorus reminds me of what I like about the vocal in “One More Year.” It’s a bit more like he’s talking, less like he’s singing.
“It Might Be Time”
Yeah. I’ve liked this song from day 1. Nothing more to say. Such great production. Such a great idea to dirty everything up with that super blown out drum and bass stuff. It’s such a great contrast to the clean smooth disco vibes on so much of the rest the record. And I like how I can time out the breaks by the perfectly placed eighth note echo-trail on his voice.
Ooof, those W Hotel vibes. This one is barely a song. Definite throwaway, probably placed because it serves some greater purpose for the context of the record, but I’m not hearing it yet. Interestingly, that kick drum/hi hat vibe is very Rush “Power Windows.” For real, go listen to “Territories” after listening to this song. They are eerily similar in production and even sort of musical content. So I’m adding Rush to the aforementioned rogue’s gallery/murderer’s row.
“One More Hour”
I like that this one tries to have some gravitas. Maybe it belongs in the Pantheon of greats. (A little inside?)
So then. I was too harsh Thursday. I’m sorry. But I can admit it at least
I have to write this out before I forget, and because it will make me (if no one else) laugh. Tame Impala’s influences: Todd Rundgren. Supertramp. Hall & Oates. Rush. That’s tremendous.
I think what I’m still wrestling with is: is this record its own specific thing? How does it sit in relation to the rest of his records? I might have a few answers. I wish there were more moments like the first track, “One More Year,” and fewer moments like “Instant Destiny” or “On Track” or “Glimmer.” “One More Year” feels like Kevin breaking through some thing that’s been holding him down. The phrasing is weird. It’s not quite so easy to follow. It’s less square, less about right angles. I want more of that. More of him pushing himself. Too much of the record sounds to me like a comfortable half-evolution of a lot of what happened on “Currents.” That’s not a bad thing, but it makes the record less “essential,” as much as I don’t want to use that word. I can see myself reaching for this record in five years because I want to remember the moment when Kevin broke his silence, when he showed up as a newly married guy and one who has been spending time in Los Angeles. That’s the record’s vibe, its niche, as far as I can tell. It’s feels a little darker, a little more grown up, a little more like his light and dark sides are really locked in a years-long war (but through the filter of some very L.A. sounds). In the past it felt like light or dark was clearly winning at all times, or, in the early days, like he was your average introspective surfer stoner dude who happened to be a musical genius.
I think I’m onto something here. I think he’s mixing real adult experience and emotion and growth with sonic genius. The adult stuff is hard – hard to live, and even harder to fit into a meticulously crafted sonic universe. This record is a much different kind of party. Parts of it are a funeral. He’s trying to articulate some stuff that doesn’t want to fit into the container in which his articulations get shared. Bad sentence, but maybe the right analysis.
Final thought for now: I wish the cover were different. I don’t like seeing so much of the color red when I think of Tame Impala. I’ve always seen their/his music as silvery blue and green with some saturated pinks and oranges. This full on red just doesn’t feel right to me. Puts me in a weird place.
A weird place like when your flight is going backwards in time. I think I’m gonna ask the smiling lady for a Bloody Mary.