Currents: Album of the Decade?

In rock criticism, commercial success doesn’t so much attest to quality as corroborate it”

John Rockwell

For the first listen, the writer tried the vinyl version, not a bad way to experience a record; if you’re willing to get up and change over the sides.

This conundrum made worse by the deluxe edition’s double 180 gram LP requiring a total of four complete disc changes and the inevitable fact that the writer was, indeed stoned, trying to scribe some reactions and then, inevitably, just rambling about the fact that Currents—with good reason—is and will be found on every somesuch end of the decade blah-blah blurb circlejerk article about that particular publications’ invariable great, worldly or wonky brand of taste. (Can you believe those motherfuckers at Pitchfork didn’t even mention An Awesome Wave? Assholes!) Some will rate it higher than Lonerism, some will rate it lower than Lonerism. The writer’s yada yada will continuing running on in sentences while furiously replaying 10-second samples and even listening to the record back to front. Not because it’s actually a discussion of taste but because the lay reader will view any music critakcism magazine and it’s list as a be-all end-all decade’s (if not year’s) worth of essential eye-rolls. Yes, the writer and many others are attempting the Sisphyian folly on determining what was essential for this decade.

(Once again, can you believe those Pitchfork ivy leagues really never slotted in An Awesome Wave to some honorable mention of a 97 or 83 spot?)

 

 

 

 

 

And the writer supposes that this was bound to happen. That it was, indeed inevitable. That Kevin Parker is the one. He is the guy. The dude that connects the critics and the fans, the hipsters and the basic girls, the neurotics and the sports jocks, the art snob and the popular culture fiend. And thus he was bound to be on everyone’s list for the decade. Pitchfork, AV Club, NME, this very extend-o-blurb, every one of ‘em had to pay their respects to the king (sorry Gizzheads and noble Flaming Lips lovers), Kevin Parker isn’t just the new kid in town but the new boss on the street. Music mag reviewers await his next record at the pulpit, fans hope he’ll stop teasing new music in between festival seasons and everybody wishes he’d just do another fucking world tour comprised of more than just festival dates.

But these were all words that flowed from a place non-listening. Recycling the red splatter records front to back and then back to front while dreaming up quotidian introductions to this piece. There was no intimacy.

Oh I see, you’ve turned something that should be treated into a successful career (sic).”

Conan O’Brien’s Dad

So the next attempt to listen was immediately after, wherein the the writer sat, headphones in place, at 10pm, trying to gauge the record’s every sonic capability. Every time the synthesizers and drums suck in all the air of the song and then exhales with the power of vacuum on reverse, that’s one, or when the song fractalizes on a particular jarring scratch of the tape, looping itself into phase two from a drum machine, an organ or a bad mama synthesizer, that’s two, or when the bass guitar vivisects “Gossip” for the raw sex entrance of “The Less I Know The Better” that’s three. But this didn’t do much either. Now the magic of the product just dissipated to the mind as smoke to the grasping hand. There seemed a wall in between the ears and the ‘phones and besides, I was high and sleepy, listening to a record for the fifth time that night, the new 5 o’ Clock alarm for work prowling on the edges of his waking consciousness; it was time to sleep. Nothing to show for it but words of adulation and, of course, a ramble about Pitchfork’s, AV Club’s, Atwood’s et al desire to showcase music that need be remembered for the decade. The writer actually resents that he cannot share in first person. But, (haha!) a call was made and an answer was given (hit me with your worst, you editing fiends!) and a record was chosen. Alas, it was time to sleep.

 

 

 

But slap the writer awake to explicate the listening experience of each Tame Impala record in the canon and it would follow suit: InnerSpeaker is the Sixities on acid, Lonerism is the Seventies on acid and Currents is the Eighties on acid. And Lonerism might be his favourite, but Currents he heard first.

To be more specific he heard “The Less I Know the Better” first. And to be most specific, he still thinks the sounds of teenage fellatio were exactly the intro needed for the album version too. But alas, it was only the music video, played from his fraternity brother’s jambox, birthing the phrase “Come on Superman, say your stupid line” and a budding predisposition to state “Fuck Trevor” after giving to the world one of the nastiest thud-thud basslines that sounds like the wretched heart of a P-Funk record. A bona fide bow-chic-a-wow-wow panty dropping thing backed up by a flatslapping snare-happy drum machine and synth samples like tubular bells ringing out the plaintiff plea of a guy going falsetto through “not the greatest feeling ever.”

The Less I Know the Better might just connect every modern rock fan on this planet. That might be the one imprint that every Anglophile remembers; but that didn’t stop Parker from making a damn good record long-player. How about that sudden game of red-light-green-light, freezing the train in place and then looping its synthline rumble into “Let It Happen Pt. 2”—oh shit here the writer is again, caught in a loop—fabricating a new fractal from the kaleidoscopic first. Psychedelic inclinations meet oozing electropop, R&B sonic conjurations. So nice Parker had to do it twice with nearly every track on the latter third of the LP, singing, reading spoken word over organs and stutter-stepping time signatures—who wouldn’t stutter when proscribing a positive future for their ex-copine? Or seeing an ex-ex-ex-fling?—wooping synthesizers and a drum machine reintegrated with a dry thud bang. They’re not so much coming to a head as they are detonating a thought bomb. As if mid-composition Parker has come to epiphany (egads!) and reinvents the battery with manic compulsiveness. And it’s not so insane as it is just creative.

Yes I’m changing, yes I’m gone
Yes I’m older, yes I’m moving on
And if you don’t think it’s a crime
You can come along with me”

Kevin Parker, “Yes I’m Changing”

The key to understanding this record is realizing the absolutely neurotic nature of Kevin Parker’s discography, transforming each sonic and lyrical shift from intense introversion to lonerism to acceptance into epiphany, a constant current of self-improvement. “Reality in Motion” thrives on this momentum—is it all about learning pragmatism specifically in the context of flirting? Perhaps. But it is Kevin Parker songwriting on the edge of his instrumental instincts. There has been a great disservice done to Currents—an electropopping R&B record in hallucinogenic drag—in categorizing it but another popular neo-psychedelia record. Parker plays to the same inclinations that made Van Halen “Jump,” or rendered Yes “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” And he does it for an entire record. Don’t take Currents for just the hits. From sugar snap beats in “The Moment” to the oozing bass distortion of “Causing I’m A Man,” the record is hardly any filler and literally all ripper; even the B-Sides “Powerlines” and “Taxi’s Here” show this record could have been an hour long with ease, perfect for a mini road-trip.

 

Not that it already isn’t: the third time listening session set out on the car stereo. Fuck it, might as well get the trippin’ mojo on and ride this shit out on the road. Thus the writer, in his car at approximately 7:53PM, regarding the full moon bright, out of her harvest yellow phase, a plane journeys across the nightsky as Charon through the mist of a cirrus Styx and listening the guitar solo pluck his brainstem, “EVENTUALLLLLLY” moaning from the stereo, kick drum resetting the song, the Farfisa reentering the fray, setting it into tailspin, pausing the beat—INHALE—“EVENTUALLLLYYYY, IIIIIIIII”—BOOMeverything exhales, the beat, the synthesizers, the organs, everything exhales and everything slaps. Twinkling piano melodies and whirring melodies trail the writer off to the thoughts of ex-girlfriends, bad trips and friends deceased too young telling him that Currents’ track 5, “Eventually,” was a new favourite, souvenirs all happening in the same car to the same record on the same track replayed in the writer’s head at the same time. The writer doesn’t cry, but he does experience a crisis. Everything exhales and everything slaps.

And that is where this album’s conceit links listener to song to other listeners—it is wrapped in breakups, late night drives, writing fevers, card games, acid trips, sex and chores. It has scored and mapped out the writer’s brain so thoroughly to separate listener from product is to separate artist from piece. This is not a record, Currents is a totem, one of the indisputable records of the 2010’s, a generational milestone in the same vein as Dark Side of the Moon or Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club or Nevermind, and yet even that does not matter.

It does not matter that Currents is Kevin Parker’s or anybody else’s totem. This is a record of my decade because everything exhales and everything slaps.


Tame Impala – Currents

Album Artist: Kevin Parker
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Modular/Universal
Genre: Psychedelic Rock, Alternative R&B, Electrofunk

Tracklist:

  1. “Let It Happen”
  2. “Nangs”
  3. “The Moment”
  4. “Yes, I’m Changing”
  5. “Eventually”
  6. “Gossip”
  7. “The Less I Know the Better”
  8. “Past Life”
  9. “Disciples”
  10. “Cause I’m a Man”
  11. “Reality in Motion”
  12. “Love/Paranoia”
  13. “New Person, Same Old Mistakes”