James Reynolds reviews The Slow Rush, the latest offering from Australian multi-instrumentalist, Kevin Parker.
Last summer, Funkadelic’s sixth Standing on the Verge of Getting It On turned forty-five. The record marked a deliberate shift for the collective, away from making artsy psychedelia for blues fans and towards making artsy psychedelia for fans of rock and funk. There wasn’t an awful lot separating the group from sister-act Parliament by this point, but it still felt somehow new. It was inaccessible in a different way, unlike its predecessors which landed closer to soul than rock. And that was okay. The new sound was popular, cool and knew how to have a good time. It embraced new themes, simple themes, of finding love and learning to vibe.
Forty-six years later, Kevin Parker’s Tame Impala is beginning to echo similar sentiments. For one, both share an affinity for substances – but that’s nothing new. George Clinton’s use of drugs throughout Funkadelic’s creative process may have been a little more dramatic, but Parker is no stranger to augmenting his artistic faculties, either. In a 2020 Vice interview, he credited the role of booze and weed in helping “escape pressure” and “escape overthinking things” respectively. And now, at last, he seems ready to make new music again.
“I couldn’t even think about new Tame Impala music for a long time,” he told Vice, acknowledging the pressure and responsibility that comes with such a project. You get the sense that each etching on the Tame Impala timeline requires a new degree of maturity from the Australian band of one. 2012’s Lonerism – where I started following the artist – could afford to be a little bombastic; hollow, even, at times, if only for the reason that it was eight years younger. The darker moments on the record – as in ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ – were masked with synths and hot air because, at the end of the day, it was tapestry music, designed above all else to help second years get laid. Currents felt more polished, self-confident, but wasn’t a million miles away from the last.
And hence it’s the role of The Slow Rush to take Parker’s sound and approach forward, in much the same way that Standing on the Verge did for Funkadelic. Listen carefully and you will realise that the first few tracks sound a little more thoughtful than in previous releases: ‘One More Year’ reflects, “If we had a care, it didn’t show / I worry our horizons bear nothing new.” Parker digs deeper into his concerns – maybe getting somewhere with them, maybe not – but being able to articulate them a little better all the same.
“Will I be known and loved? / is there one that I trust? / starting to sober up / has it been long enough?” rings ‘Borderline’. Forget the lyrics. It’s upbeat, but not saccharine. It doesn’t gloss over its problems in the same way anymore. And that’s probably a good thing. The last two efforts were made popular for the very reason that they were, in a sense, inaccessible – they were different, weird, edgy… and this is the reverse of that. Perhaps if The Slow Rush doesn’t achieve quite the same acclaim it’s because it’s fairly comfortable to listen to, coming to terms with its internal struggles. The friends you like to go out with are seldom the ones with a reasonable bedtime and healthy inhibitions, but they are at least reliable.
Pitchfork put it nicely: “Think of [Tame Impala] as psychedelia for people with meditation apps and vape pens: instead of opening your mind, you’re just trying to silence it.”
Well, perhaps The Slow Rush is taking a break from that, reconciling with the traffic (which “doesn’t seem quite as annoying / quite alright, quite alright, sittin’ here”) and making leaps towards facing the proverbial music. As a result, it does a good job of focusing on its broader composure. The album effortlessly blends R&B with hip-hop, soul with pop, all the while still lacing through those typical Tame Impala reverberations.
‘Breathe Deeper’ is definitely worth injecting into any pre-summer playlist, and ‘Lost in Yesterday’ has comforting 80s vibes. It’s a good energy, on the whole – not decidedly crazy, but not yet ready to submit entirely to nirvana. It’s a likeable record; it has good character. And while it perhaps doesn’t sound quite as essential as some of the last releases, the new direction is a welcome one.
Words by James Reynolds