This review is part of my coverage of the 2013 Progressive Music Awards, on 3 September.
Australian quintet Tame Impala (whose name I insisted on pronouncing as "TA·may im·PA·la" for the longest damn time) don't seem very eager to fight off the stereotype about bands from down under. (You know, the one that they're all batshit crazy?) And we should be grateful for their slightly baffling creative spirit; we have them to thank for their excellent latest album, 2012's Lonerism.
Now, since this was up for album of the year at this years Progressive Music Awards, I was expecting an album full of quirky explosions of mathy technicality. Instead, showing just how broad the genre is, I got a face full of '60s-influenced madcap psychedelia--and I loved every minute of it. Sure, you can still hear the kitschy indie rock influences, but at the core, this is true, stoner-era psychedelic rock, the kind of stuff to which prog rock owes a great debt of influence. (Can you imagine where we'd be without The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and its ilk?)
For a recent release, it does everything in its power to sound as authentically '60s as possible; the music is full of unorthodox, yet incredibly catchy, songs and mannerisms, all presented through a fantastically lo-fi sound, grungy instrumentation, and just beyond sensible lyrics. Of course, you can hear the influences from modern indie and neo-psychedelia (they are clearly indebted to bands like The Black Angels), but what makes Tame Impala's music so effective is how it takes the indie rock you've come to expect and distorts it not beyond recognition, but just enough to make you very uncomfortable, like you're listening to the world through beer goggles (synæsthesia fully intended). These guys carve out a territory of psychedelic ramblings wholly unto themselves.
And yet, the music sometimes gets a bit repetitive, and it's clear from a few of the songs that Tame Impala had to work with a few less-than-stellar ideas. ("Be Above It", in particular, has always struck me as a particularly weak opener.) But those are all but drowned out by the superb pieces like "Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control" or "Why Won't They Talk to Me?", which are great enough in their own right for the album to stand on their shoulders alone.
While Lonerism is a fantastic album, I'm not certain how I feel about it getting an Album of the Year nod at the PMAs. Certainly, it's a high-quality release (heck, even Pitchfork liked it), but it doesn't feel proggy enough to warrant the distinction. They're the kind of semi-progressive band I'd nominate in the Visionary category, along with other tangentially-progressive bands like Radiohead or Primus. But if you're just reading this review to find out about the album outside of that context, it's freaking great. Get it!
Recommended if you like: The Beatles, Animal Collective, Blur