Tame Impala’s follow-up to 2010’s well-received Innerspeaker features a typically neo-psychedelic track called Why Won’t They Talk to Me?, in which Kevin Parker concludes that he is ‘Destined to be / Lonely old me’. The song becomes representative of the recurring thematics behind Lonerism, as it evokes the self-questioning of someone in isolation, yet does so in a playfully dramatic way. Reviving the mixing talents of Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, MGMT) after his work on Innerspeaker, has allowed Lonerism to expand the Perth band’s sound even further.
Tame Impala have always masked their sound’s pop undercurrent quite well, yet Lonerism lets it creep slightly further into the foreground. Influenced by Todd Rundgren’s 1973 concept album A Wizard, a True Star, the album’s all-consuming prog-pop melodies are now driven both by guitars and by analog synthesizers. This expands the sonic field in which the band can feed off eachother, creating an even greater sense of space and depth.
It is in this great sonic expanse that the group shape songs with childish imagery, and others that act as moody laments. Lead single Elephant, which is actually older than the band’s name, embodies the former. The song’s plodding caveman rhythms and heavily fuzzed riffs couple with Parker’s lyrics, notably ‘I bet he feels like an elephant / Shakin’ his feet, great trunk for the hell of it’, to create a perfectly awkward swagger. A harsh synth line kicks in, and the song suddenly morphs into a dark dance number.
The Vangelis-esque synth work carries over into fifty-seven seconds of avant-garde psychedelia on She Just Won’t Believe Me, highlighting just how quickly the band can sweep you away under layers of phased guitars and naive vocal tones.
More serious moments are apparent on Be Above It and Sun’s Coming Up. The former combines a half-whisper repetition of the line ‘I gotta be above it’ with tribalistic percussion in order to create a sense of urgency. The song quickly becomes a dizzying experience once intermittent guitar swells ensue. The latter, the album’s final track, is a moody piano-driven waltz in which Parker muses ‘Seven a.m. / Midnight in Dover / Sun’s coming up now / I guess it’s over’. Messy psychedelic guitar lines constitute the song’s second half, and close out the album by somehow allowing the album to lose itself in itself.
It was inevitable that Tame Impala’s music would expand to the point where its hypnotic soundscape would seem to fall back on itself, which is seen at length on the lengthily titled Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control. This is why Lonerism is a truly immersive experience: it blankets pop melodies in dark waves of relentless psychedelia to be both naively beautiful and subtly melancholic.