By Scott Buettner
Had John Lennon befriended Syd Barrett instead of Paul McCartney at that now-historic 1957 church picnic, the resulting musical partnership may have sounded much like Tame Impala. An inventive blend of 1960s psychedelia and modern indie rock with flairs for both melody and driving beats (think early Floyd meets Weezer meets Jack White); Tame Impala’s sound is largely the brainchild of Australian multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker. Much like pop-rock phenom Beck, Parker typically conceives and records entire albums solo, then assembles a band for live shows and tours. When you listen to the lush layers and buoyant patterns of the 2012 song “Elephant”, for example, virtually every instrument you hear is played by Parker.
While playing in numerous bands throughout the mid-2000s, Parker emerged as a standout of the Perth music scene. During this time he also meticulously tinkered alone in his home studio. His eventual posting of several experimental songs on Myspace garnered immediate acclaim and interest from record labels. Parker signed on with Modular Recordings and sought the help of two fellow musicians to officially form Tame Impala. The group’s self-titled EP reached #1 on the Australian charts, primarily buffeted by the jaunty single “Half Full Glass of Wine”. To follow came the highly-regarded albums “Innerspeaker” and “Lonerism” coupled with tours and festival performances alongside The Black Keys, Muse, Rise Against, and others.
Parker has cited a wide range of musical influences as diverse The Flaming Lips, The Rolling Stones, Supertramp, and even (sheepishly) Britney Spears. With such eclectic taste and tireless talent he is able to incorporate the bluesy rhythms, hard-edged riffs, and sticky-sweet melodies of artists like these into extremely layered yet accessible tunes. His most apparent affinity, however, is the sonic free-for-all found in ‘60s and ‘70s psychedelic rock. Inspired by that era’s experimentation, he’s admitted a love for challenging the listener with pitch-shifted guitar tones and generous use of reverb, distortion, and phasing…without allowing a song to veer so far astray it becomes anything less than fun. Of this he’s said he often aims to make the instrumentation sound like,” pretty much anything except guitars and drums. I’m obsessed with confusing people as to the origin of a sound.”
Parker’s impish sense of humor aside, Tame Impala are a band to be enjoyed on several levels. To turn an ear toward their infectious guitar hooks and toe-tapping beats is to but scratch the surface of a quickly growing catalog of complex mini-masterpieces. Most songs merit several back-to-back playings before drawing any conclusions: the tightly-woven sonic textures, precise engineering, and sly lyrics will reward the serious listener.
Tame Impala are on tour now, playing two nights next month at New York’s Beacon Theatre, followed by dates on the West Coast and in South America.