On the sun-drenched shores of remote western Australia, Kevin Parker, the man behind Tame Impala, became dazed long ago, but he never sounded confused. Happily, this circumstance gave rise to a succulent flavor of toothy, interesting electronic psych-rock that had college students and critics glowing through the 2010s. Three albums established a rising trajectory and artistic growth. On new album The Slow Rush, Tame Impala takes root in a lasting mellow.
Though never particularly abrasive in the past, The Slow Rush really emphasizes the “tame” half of the project’s moniker. This impala seems to have gotten comfortable within the prescriptions of, say, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The new album dwells overwhelmingly in the sunny dreams of late 1970s California schmaltz. One can almost smell the tobacco-saturated motel shag carpeting and visualize the mustard-colored mini-fridge, where another bottle of Scotch cools for a fresh round of slow jams.
Certainly there’s something to like in that approach. The characteristically bobbing beats dwell in a strange vibrating dimension between “Sonic The Hedgehog” soundtracks and desert-baked Touareg rhythms. Jaunty and hypnotic drumming evokes wild and thirsty hills full of secrets. The hopeful clash of “Instant Destiny” makes a fine preparation for an evening out in a bright beach town, while “Borderline” gets down by itself on an air-conditioned dance floor of introspection. The lyrics of the latter suggest an inner confliction that belies the album’s mostly sunny disposition.
The weighty concept tune “Posthumous Forgiveness” begins with an echo of Eric Clapton’s “Let It Grow,” continuing the connection to 1970s smooth rock. The song is a compositional triumph for The Slow Rush. It soon expands to include a synth chamber orchestra chorus reminiscent of Grizzly Bear. Overwhelming buzzy synths take over for a raw build to a cinematic flourish. The song then suddenly takes a hard left turn into melodic territory, with one of the album’s most memorable vocal hooks. The lyrics pack emotional heft, buoyed by subtle orchestrated touches, including delicate piano and barely noticeable background vocals.
“Breathe Deeper,” another strong cut, begins with a chill loop that sounded like a heart-felt West Coast rap ballad from the ’90s before Parker’s processed falsetto takes things back to the ether. A creeping bass line anchors the tune, which takes the listener on a dreamy, detached journey through strange tricks of the light. The outro packs a jabby punch with motorized synth and an assertive techno riff.
But these strong moments stick out at angles from a remarkably staid landscape of gentle chords and glassy textures. Much of the album slips by placidly like a contented sigh. At its least potent moments, such as the milky “Tomorrow’s Dust” and snoozer “On Track,” The Slow Rush ventures into frumpy, watered-down disco, a dubious stylistic shift begun on 2015’s Currents. The beats frequently sound robotic and overly programmed, while the songs lack definition due to heavy use of long synth washes.
The Slow Rush almost gathers steam as it goes along. “Lost In Yesterday” takes a more energetic turn, borrowing from new wave and 1980s MTV dance hits to create a bounding feel of wonderment. This is coupled with some of the most interesting musical interplay and rhythmic specificity on the record. Despite a lackluster intro, the urgency meter spikes on “It Might Be Time,” a passionate affair that brings the energy up for four-and-a-half minutes of much-needed juice. Closing track “One More Hour” is delivered with thematic weight, borne of tension and restraint.
But the momentum that would build from these songs is repeatedly dissipated by meandering stopgaps like “Glimmer” and “Is It True,” which ends with some dinky keyboard improvisations. Little here seems destined for the mental-repeat playlist. The vocals are subtle but it seems like merely a textural choice, as opposed to an adventurous experiment to build or explore a mystique. During a mid-album lull, Parker sounds so relaxed he might just as well be bored.
Ultimately, Tame Impala’s range seems limited on this collection of mostly slow-to-mid-tempo atmospheric ruminations. Chords and melodies are recycled, the vocals are wistfully obscure, and there is a lack of memorable hooks. Though it benefits somewhat from repeated listens, the energy and mood stay comfortably—a little too comfortably—within Parker’s sun-damaged trance. The Slow Rush catches Tame Impala grazing, leaving listeners with disappointingly little to chew on.
Follow writer Alexander Baechle at Instagram.com/writheinsmoke.