Seconds, minutes, hours, years, yesterday, tomorrow, destiny, death, and love: all these conceptual granules, and more related to time’s sojourn, bubble up through Tame Impala’s astonishing new album The Slow Rush – even the title of which alludes to Kevin Parker’s fascination with the passage of time. “I find the ideas of imagining the future, and remembering the past, so moving,” he says. “They’re a constant source of strong emotions for me. So, naturally I like to think that I can channel them through music – or channel music through them.”
This is the fourth album under the rippling Tame Impala banner, following 2010’s Innerspeaker (nommed for two ARIAs), 2012’s Lonerism (winner of two ARIAs and nommed for a Grammy), and 2015’s Currents (which garnered Parker two personal ARIA Awards for his engineering and production, while the album itself won two awards and one Grammy nomination).
So, how does The Slow Rush go?
Meticulously structured, it begins with the enraptured, pulsing disco jam One More Year (“We got a whole year! 52 weeks! Seven days each! Four seasons, one reason… from today”), takes stock in the middle with the measured, soaring, tom-heavy On Track (“I know it’s nearly August… I know it’s been a slow year, nothing much to show here, but strictly speaking I’m still on track”), and ends with the dynamic, seven-minute epic One More Hour (“Whatever I did, I did it for love…for fun… for fame… but never for the money”), the little beating piano triads of which seem to mark out the seconds between moments of whopping synths and cymbals. But rather than suggesting a path towards entropy, The Slow Rush constantly opens buds sparkling with observations about time’s mysterious effects. In the brilliant single Lost In Yesterday, Parker ponders why he was ever so worried during those halcyon twenty-somethings, and attests that “eventually terrible memories turn into great ones.”
“I was worried about a lot back then,” he says slowly, then chuckles. “Yeah, geez, where to start? It’s funny because it’s not things that I don’t worry about now. Worrying about people judging me, what I looked like… which is obviously still something I do care about, but the things that you worried about ten years ago just seem that extra level more trivial now. Because it’s like, what did all that count towards? Nothing. But our brains kind of justify it being more important now.”
In Is It True, the song’s protagonist declares his romantic love, but declines from solidifying its perpetuity, hedging his answers. The listener comes to comprehend that saying ‘I love you forever’ dilutes the ‘I love you’ part, because the ‘forever’ part is not quite an untruth, but a mistruth – an unknown. Parker says these lyrics were a bit of fun, and it seems he’s almost playing at an emotional approach, or testing it out. “I’m a romantic, so I do say things like [‘forever’]… I am singing from a different persona, but at the same time, I like thinking about that sort of thing,” he says. “The song’s about living in the present, or wanting to be in the present, and knowing that no one can be certain about the future. But, you know, I’m married – so by definition I have said ‘I love you forever’!” (Parker wed his long-time girlfriend Sophie Lawrence in February 2019, at a Western Australian vineyard.)
Amongst the buoyant, propulsive beats of It Might Be Time – whose syncopations are like a pony’s merry, mid-gallop hoof-kicks – we find paralysing self-doubt: “It might be time to face it… you aren’t as young as you used to be” (with ‘young’ variously swapped with ‘fun’ and ‘cool’). Its synths wheel up and down in panicked octaves, recalling the most adrenaline-choked moments of a modern cinematic classic. “I know exactly what you mean – I started playing that line, and I wasn’t like ‘I’m going to make the Kill Bill siren,’ but I did like how it sounded,” Parker smiles. There’s also a couple of fake-outs across the track, where vocal tails echo out alone – but drums smash back in after a few beats. It could suggest, to certain listeners, the horror of a realisation or truth smacking you back into reality. “As much as I’d like to claim that [as an intention], it wasn’t something I was thinking about – but I do like it when that happens,” Parker explains of form mirroring lyric. “That kind of thing, for me, is the pinnacle of making music. It’s also one of the reasons why I do it on my own – because those kinds of things happen a lot more when you’re on your own. You can make the music reflect what you’re singing about – you have that power.”
The album contains Parker’s most personal musical missive to date: Posthumous Forgiveness, a song directly addressed to his father who passed away in 2009 following a battle with skin cancer. It’s been 10 years since his death; why did Parker decide that now was the time for this track, which traverses all kinds of blame, guilt, and understanding? “It’s a good question, and I don’t know,“ he says simply. “In the years gone since he died, I probably thought it wasn’t worth writing a song about, because of a number of reasons. One of them being, I hate to think that I’m trying to get people to feel sorry for me – I hate to come across as fishing for sympathy, I’d kind of [put] on a brave face, in that Australian, emotionless exterior way: ‘I’m not writing a song about that, f-ck you!’” he laughs. “I guess I just put it off. I’ve put references to him in my lyrics before, but I‘ve never really dedicated a whole song to it… this kind of just felt right.”
When Parker and his band played the album’s first single Borderline – a rapturous gem with rolling timpani, thickly fuzzed synth, and those sauntering congas – on Saturday Night Live in March last year, you can see his glee at the slot’s conclusion. Typically understated of course, Parker turns to his band and does a little thumbs-up fist pump. ”It was the first time we’d performed it – I think I’d still been writing lyrics that morning,” he smiles.
“It was probably one of the more stressful times in my life so far, the days leading up to that day. So that little gesture was a symbol of unmatchable relief, indescribable relief. It would’ve been sheer elation that nothing went wrong – live on TV!” And now we know it won’t be long until we get to experience this and the other treasures of The Slow Rush live on our shores. “I feel really bad; I see the instagram comments, like ‘Yooo, an Australian tour any time this f-cking century?” he laughs. And will they be bringing the timpani, congas, vibraphone and other assorted inconveniently-giant-but-signature-Tame-Impala instruments along? “Well, anything’s possible! We also have technological ways of bringing that kind of stuff without actually bringing the real thing,” Parker says wryly. “But I’m sure if we wanted to borrow some timpani, we could go over to the Western Australian Performing Arts Academy. Maybe we’ll do that.”
The Slow Rush by Tame Impala is out February 14 via Island Records.
Keep up with the latest Australian release dates for music.