Tame Impala defined the sound of the 2010s. The brainchild of music-obsessive, Kevin Parker, the Australian psych project rose to prominence in the summer of 2011 after appearing at the Coachella festival a year after the release of Innerspeaker. Having successfully embedded themselves in the collective psyche of festival-goers through years of relentless touring, their appearance at Coachella made them a mainstay, as did their next album, Lonerism, which saw Parker step beyond revivalism and celebrate the technological exploration that defined the psychedelic genre’s golden age in the late 1960s and early ’70s.
While Tame Impala’s sound seems like the product of someone who has listened to psych-rock since birth, Parker was surprisingly late to the game, only stumbling across the genre when he was an adolescent. As he recalled in a 2013 interview: “After my grunge phase, I started opening my horizons and listening to more electronic stuff. I got into Radiohead, specifically Amnesiac – my brother gave me that album. It wasn’t until I was 20 and met all the guys I’m friends with now – the rest of the guys in the band – that I started listening to psych-rock. I listened to the Doors, Colour Haze, Black Sabbath and stuff like that, but the album that really got me into it was Disraeli Gears. I loved that rumbling, fuzzed-out sound. I picked it up in a record store one day and it just blew my mind.”
Unlike so many of the psych revivalists who littered local music scenes the world over in the 2010s, Kevin Parker wasn’t necessarily interested in simply recreating the sound of albums like Cream’s Disraeli Gears. Instead, Tame Impala’s sound was a bi-product of its mastermind’s infatuation with studio technology and the infinite possibilities that lay therein. Indeed, while Parker has previously cited the influence of The Doors, Todd Rundgren, and Cream, it was a much more recent band that formed the bedrock of the dance-infused psych style that would allow Tame Impala to transcend genre and taste and bring in hordes of devoted fans.
“I was starting university when [Air’s] Talkie Walkie came out, and it became an emotional soundtrack to what was going on in my life,” he began. “At the time I was studying engineering and floundering miserably, because I really couldn’t give a shit – as hard as I tried I just couldn’t concentrate. I’d spend whole lectures thinking about the next song I was going to do. This album was such an enhancer”.
Adding: “I was really inspired by the way they layered melodies and sounds to create a sort of electronic orchestra. That opened my eyes to new studio possibilities because it was just two guys but they were making a world of sounds. It made me realise that it doesn’t have to sound like a band, it can sound like something totally different.”
Perhaps Tame Impala’s sound proved so popular because it encompassed something like 30 years of music-making. While tracks like ‘Elephant’ from 2012’s Lonerism certainly contain the “fuzzed-out” vibe that made Parker fall in love with Disraeli Gears, that track – and indeed the rest of Lonerism and its successor, Currents – is crafted like some acid house track, where textures swell and curl, sweeping the listener along in a mesmerizing blend of distortion, tempo-locked phase and pulsing bass.