Album Review: Tame Impala – Lonerism

[Modular Recordings; 2012]

Perth, Australia, is one of the most isolated metropolises on the planet. With the Indian Ocean to the west and desert in every other direction, it is over 2000 kilometers away from another major city. It also accounts for over ¾ of the population of the lightly inhabited Western Australia, by far the largest state in the country. Like the city he has chosen to call home, Kevin Parker exudes a natural sense of seclusion. He’s an unusually expressive outsider, diligently documenting his malaise so that we may better understand his struggle. One needn’t look any further than the titles of his albums as Tame Impala to see how much this defines his music.

Innerspeaker was sometimes standoffish in both content and delivery (take a few lines from his breakthrough single: “Company’s okay/ Solitude is bliss,” or “You will never come close to how I feel”). Whether he was apathetic or just willfully refusing to let the outside in, Parker promptly discarded the niceties, shrouding his band’s swishing retro sound with a disobliging sense of self. The fortitude of his individuality has been enriched and magnified on his second record, mostly thanks to exposure that comes with fronting a band with a well-liked debut album. Lonerism, a neologism that’s even further withdrawn than Innerspeaker, adds crucial details to Parker’s story. His degree of discomfort in his own skin is offset by a reflexive acceptance of this reality, and Lonerism is at its most compelling when it is analyzing why this is the case.

Parker’s love/hate affair with his fellow man is illustrated vividly in ink, and then promptly smudged on the page. Whenever he seems apprehensive or insecure (“Keep On Lying”), he’ll shrug it off moments later (the exquisite “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control”). The sour grapes of “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?” could easily come off as alienating or childish, but Parker breathes humanity into it with logical, sympathetic progression of thought and an authentic narrative. His moodiness ends up balancing the album instead of weighing it down. “Why would I wanna talk to them anyway?/ They just talk about themselves all day,” he remarks, before quickly recanting.

But if Parker’s coyness played a hand in shaping Lonerism’s storyline, he’s experiencing no such struggle as musician. This album is meditative, layered and confident, simultaneously cooler and more temperate than its predecessor. It’s overstocked with expansive diapason tones and stunning melodies, both of which gel marvelously over time. The spongy pop harmonies positively sparkle, descending with appreciable grace and precision. The underlying vocals on “She Just Won’t Believe Me” and “Mind Mischief” unfold like hybridized renditions of Please Please Me, latter-day Kinks and modern alternative rock.

Contrasted with the straight up guitartronica of Innerspeaker, Lonerism is a good deal more experimental. Keyboards and synthesizers are sometimes a defining feature (“Music to Walk Home By”) but mostly serve a complementary role. Other times, the guitars are all that matter. The hawkish stomp on lead single “Elephant” feels slightly mismatched with the rest of the album, but is an outstanding song in its own right.

On the hallucinatory “Apocalypse Dreams,” Parker wonders aloud: “Am I getting closer?/ Will I ever get there?/ Does it even matter?” The first two questions self-defined and therefore impossible to answer, but in the third is so self-evident that only a profoundly conflicted soul would even bother to raise the question. On “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” Parker goes so far as to meekly declare, “Indecision isn’t me.”  His unusually deep exploration of that self-effacing paradox would be enough, but the way your patience is so handsomely rewarded is what truly makes Lonerism such an engrossing spectacle.