Mirabella Miller ’23
March 5, 2020
Kevin Parker, the man behind the psychedelic rock project Tame Impala, released his long-awaited album “The Slow Rush” on Feb. 14. An explanation for the five year gap between Parker’s previous album “Currents” and “The Slow Rush” can be found in what we know about Parker’s editing process: his tendency to tinker if given time and his hesitancy to slap a “finished” label on any of his songs. It was reported that Parker wanted to release the album before headlining Coachella last spring but felt it was not quite ready. The first single released to tease “The Slow Rush,” titled “Patience,” did not end up making it onto the album. The second single, “Borderline,” was trimmed in length and sonically boosted in the version that appears on the album. Parker is extremely disciplined with his work and never quite seems satisfied.
But clues to another more compelling explanation for the wait are found in the thematic and lyrical patterns on the album, which reveal Parker’s anxiety about the passage of time. Song titles can be easily used to track this motif. He dwells on the past (“Lost in Yesterday”) while still trying to be present (“Breathe Deeper”) and craft a path forward (“It Might Be Time”). Opening with the track “One More Year” and closing with one titled “One More Hour” bolsters this recurring theme and shows his bargaining process with time as he struggles to negotiate the passing of it. Beyond being generally anxious about time passing, Parker almost seems paralyzed by it.
While Parker may feel confined by time, one of the reasons that “The Slow Rush” is so sonically impressive is that Parker has never felt confined to genre. With his vast knowledge of techniques and tools, he merges a variety of styles and unites them with his personal touch. This album is full of funk and disco influences that give an air of nostalgia. The infectious “Breathe Deeper” has notes of funk and R&B that jump out at the listener from the start. But Parker marries those influences with his trademark stoner-rock mantras like “Let it Happen” and “The Less I Know The Better,” the breakout tracks of his previous album. On “Breathe Deeper”, he sings “Breathe a little deeper if you need to come undone / Let those colors run / now you’re having fun.” Deceptively simple lyrics and such a rich sound make “Breathe Deeper” one of the best songs on the album.
Psychedelic rock tends to be so sonically overwhelming that the lyrics are obscured, and Tame Impala is no exception. But unearthing the lyrics of songs on “The Slow Rush” reveal a sharp pivot from “Currents,” and the listener finds Parker gazing more intensely inward than he was previously. Songs on “Currents” detailed reactions to events that took place as Parker disentangled himself from a relationship gone haywire, while “The Slow Rush” is chock-full of contemplative meditations on the abstract things that keep Parker up at night. And while the emotional elements on “The Slow Rush” are harder to discern at times, they are still present and powerful. The standout song “Posthumous Forgiveness” finds Parker grieving his estranged father, who passed away in 2009 before he and Parker could reconcile. “And you could store an ocean in the holes / In any of the explanations that you gave,” he sings on one of the opening verses, followed by “Did you think I’d never know?” The heart-wrenching final verse is Parker’s lamentation that by the time he was ready to forgive, it was too late, and how he wishes he could have shared more of his life with his father and let him see where he is now.
But while the sonic influences vary on the album, the highs do not feel quite as high as they could be. Where songs on “Currents” soared, songs on “The Slow Rush” occasionally plateau and feel just a bit uninventive. A prime example of this is the song “Instant Destiny,” in which both the soundscape and the vocals seem to hit the same note over and over.
However, this sense of stability and equilibrium could also be viewed as Parker settling deeper into his personal sound, committing himself to growing with it and playing with it. Stability and maturity are often connotatively linked, the idea that as one grows up, they settle deeper into patterns and achieve a sense of constancy and permanence that allows them to take a deep breath and be reassured. This is Parker’s deep breath, a sign of his maturity, as he allows his album to become a testament to the very thing that he seems to be so afraid of: the passage of time. On the final track “One More Hour”, Parker leaves us with the repeated refrain “Just a minute weather up before you go out there / All your voices said you wouldn’t last a minute there,” seeming to say that while the storm of time is undoubtedly anxiety-inducing, if one can “weather up” before stepping into it, everything should be fine.