With the unbelievably exciting news that Tame Impala have finished a new record due for release in early 2020, there couldn’t be a more fitting time to explore and analyse the sonic world the band have created over the last twelve years. A cult favourite in a genre of their own, the band have been pretty busy releasing a number of chart-topping albums and touring the world. Heavily synth-led psychedelic rock, the band have created an entirely unique sound that they have managed to master in the process of trying new things and adding new elements to their musical soundscape. While it’s more common to refer to Tame Impala as a group comprising of instrumentalists in equal part, the reality is that the band would not and could not exist without frontman Kevin Parker. Not only did Parker form the band and write the songs for them to play, Parker has been writing, recording, and producing every song the band has ever released for the last twelve years. An astonishing feat, it cannot be denied that Parker is a musical machine and essentially a one-man band (until it comes to performing live). To understand the true genius of Tame Impala’s frontman, it is important to relay the band’s musical history as well as their discography, all of which has contributed to the rise of one of today’s biggest bands.
Born in Perth, Kevin Parker’s parents divorced at the tender age of three which resulted in Parker moving into his Dad’s house permanently. By the age of thirteen Parker had mastered the drums as well as the guitar showcasing both musical talent and versatility. Reminiscing on a musical upbringing, Parker has noted that there were always instruments as well as records laying around the house as a child which both encouraged his decision to play as well as influencing his musical tastes. As Parker approached adolescence, he became more introspective and introverted, finding comfort in music and the process of creating something in isolation. This overwhelming desire to create lead to a quick accumulation of music which would become Parker’s musical back catalogue.
After part-taking in various bands and musical endeavours, Parker finally released a self-titled Tame Impala EP in 2008 of which he wrote, recorded, and produced each and every sound we hear on that record. It was at this point that Parker really began to discover his sound which was deemed ‘psychedelic rock’ at the time but one can argue that it is difficult to ignore the pop influences in Parker’s sound, even from the very beginning. What was also present from the very beginning was the psychedelic-alluding colourful visuals for which Parker clearly had great affection for. The combination of both this unique sound and visually interesting musical project made for a hugely successful debut. Off the back of the EP, Parker formed the band to play with him for live gigs, and the band began to tour the country.
An element that quite clearly stands out in Tame Impala’s music is their focus on mood creation through music – an element of modern music that I feel is quite underrated and underutilised. This can be seen just as clearly on the band’s first and second studio albums ‘Interspeaker’ which was released in May 2010, and ‘Lonerism’ which was released in October 2012. Parker has spoken in various interviews about his love for pop music in that it’s just pure feelings, something he has tried to mirror in part in his own music making. “The only thing that really shines through [in my music] is the way they’re constructed and the kind of feeling they give off”. This kind of atmospheric creation can only be created in this way through relentless mixing, editing, and musical craftsmanship all of which Parker has mastered through hours of solitary work. This kind of work isn’t for everyone – there’s a reason Parker is considered both a musical genius and a total perfectionist.
Parker has quite clearly struggled with his perfectionist nature in relation to his work – “[that’s] the crucifying thing about making music on your own is that there’s no one to say when it’s finished or not so you can just go completely crazy”. ‘Lonerism’ is an album that reflects on the idea of solitude as a concept and feeling like a bit of an outsider. The album as an entity feels like a reflection on Parker’s solitary work. Through tracks such as ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ and ‘Elephant’, Parker creates a perfect sonic space in which to explore these conflicting emotions of enjoying the solitary process and being driven demented by the sound of the same chord progression on repeat for hours upon end.
After the release of two studio albums that had been named Album of the Year by both The Rolling Stone and Triple J, it is hard to imagine Parker could possibly have self-esteem issues when it came to his songwriting. However, in the run up to the release of the band’s third album ‘Currents’, Parker confessed that he felt the music he had created was ‘entirely unlistenable’. Was this merely the result of hours spent obsessing over minor details? Or is the issue more with the total isolation associated with the extensive workload? While Parker’s obsessive and perfectionist nature has most certainly provided for three albums worth of catchy, psychedelic, and entirely unique soundscapes, the question must be asked – what is the price Parker himself pays to write, record, produce, and mix the whole lot in entire isolation? Whilst he himself, and perhaps the rest of the world may argue that musically, it’s for the best, and is the reason the band are where they are today, the risk of one’s sanity must be taken into account when pondering creating music to the scale of that of Tame Impala on one’s own.
In spite of all of this, Parker’s workaholic tendencies do not seem to have wavered as in 2019 we were treated to three new Tame Impala lead singles. With the release of the latest single ‘It Might Be Time’, the band announced the upcoming release of their eagerly anticipated fourth studio album ‘The Slow Rush’ in February 2020. While Parker’s obsessive and perfectionist relationship with his work may not be the healthiest in terms of balance and workload, it is seemingly obvious that there is nothing Parker would rather devote his time to, and all the luckier we, his dedicated fanbase, are for it!