Kevin Parker has proven to have the sort of pop star magnetism that an artist like him really shouldn’t have. Judged solely on his Tame Impala work would give the impression of the sort of knowingly uncool musical anorak who’s certainly been growing in profile, but doing so off the back of a psychedelic pop formula that’s a good few steps out of any discernible mainstream space. And yet, Parker has found himself as a behind-the-scenes staple for a whole crowd of A-listers, whether that’s a budding friendship with Mark Ronson that’s led to numerous collaborations, production credits for Kanye West and Travis Scott, and even being covered by Rihanna on 2016’s Anti. That’s all on top of wedging himself into a niche where Tame Impala have become something of a staple in modern psychedelic music, especially off the big boost received off the back of 2015’s Currents. If there’s an artist that’s earned the right to be content with where he is in the musical landscape, it really is Parker, and pairing an embrace of that with a usually languid, open-ended musical canvas for The Slow Rush definitely seems like a strong notion on paper.
And what makes The Slow Rush work so well in that regard is, where that could seem like an opportunity to phone it in and show a deliberate laziness, that’s not the case here. There’s already a calm to Parker’s music that translates on its own, and while erring on the side of pop could potentially be a dicey move, The Slow Rush ends up presenting itself really well. The built-in limitations and niggles of a Tame Impala album aren’t going away, but there’s a warmth and easygoing flow that mitigates a lot of the overdone dullness that can send psychedelic rock plummeting down. In other words, The Slow Rush feels exactly as it should for an album aiming to do what it does, and that’s definitely a good thing.
At the same time though, it’s not hard to see why some might be disappointed at an angle that’s effectively taking a very broad look at calmness and mental ease and not doing a whole lot with it. Between some very basic sentiments on a track like Breathe Deeper and Parker’s accompanying elucidations on each track that read like clouded-over, spur-of-the-moment ramblings, the hippie-rock motif that’s never been all that appealing in any modern setting does seem to be rearing its head across The Slow Rush. That said, it’s not like Parker is overselling any of this; there’s a quiet precision in his vocals that mirrors the softer lucidity of it all, particularly in his upper register, and when it’s a sentiment that’s anchored early through the scope of his marriage on One More Year and Instant Destiny, and the acceptance of his estranged late father on Posthumous Forgiveness, the search for peace of mind has more to it than just empty platitudes.
It all fits with the wider mood cultivated on The Slow Rush as well. It’s an album that’s definitely low-key and hazy in general sound, but never so much that it lacks a sense of forward motion in a way that so many psychedelic albums can. Parker’s favouritism of taut percussion and basslines is the clear standout feature, lending a pop focus and clarity to tracks like Borderline and It Might Be Time; meanwhile, there’s a warping, spaced-out openness to On Track and Lost In Yesterday that warps into a more off-kilter mindset while still having a rather firm foundation. It’s definitely an expansive listen at almost an hour long and with most of its instrumental grounding in watery, rippling tones, but there’s not all that much about The Slow Rush that drags or doesn’t contribute to the beneficial whole (save for the disco lento interlude Glimmer that’s prime side-project material if it ever existed). It’s a remarkably good vibe album because of that, the sort of listen that has its challenging moments and progressive flourishes to keep the listener engaged (see the robotic choral vocals running through One More Year for the clearest example), but is easy to sink into above anything else, as the musical threads are so well-knit together and the shining production is able to keep the lighter tone running throughout. And while there’s definitely a tendency for some of the loftier passages to sink into the background, they’re never unpleasant to have there when they do.
For as much of a cop-out as it sounds, The Slow Rush is just a nice album to have around, especially when it fosters the sense of ease and positivity that it’s going for so well. For an act like Tame Impala and their penchant to set critical tongues wagging, this isn’t their most boundary-pushing effort to date, but even a smaller scale album like this still has its moments of expanse that feel justified and engaging. Even for as relatively simple as this album is, Parker has the creative know-how to make the most of it, falling back on his pop nous while keeping his blurry lucidity perfectly intact. Even if it’s not going to stick around as much as some of Tame Impala’s more daring work, The Slow Rush still has plenty worth revisiting and becoming lost in, as Parker’s journey through the ever-fertile land of a chameleonic musical presence continues to yield blossoming results.
For fans of: MGMT, Temples, Foxygen
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Slow Rush’ by Tame Impala is out now on Island Records.