Kevin Parker is a prog-rock wiz with a heart of pop gold, spooling out resplendent psychedelic symphonies in Tame Impala, a studio project that’s blossomed into a band big enough to headline Coachella. With his long hair and spacey jams, he can recall a bygone era of art-rock conjurer, those Seventies studio druids holed up in sound caves, subsisting on psilocybin tea and holding philosophical discourses with their beard fleas. But Parker’s a modern guy, and his music works because he balances pie-eyed grandeur with sugary sleekness; it’s part of the reason Rihanna covered one of his songs, and why he’s been tapped to work with Lady Gaga, Kanye West, and other stars.
The Slow Rush is Tame Impala’s first album since their 2015 breakout, Currents. Parker still sings like a Bee Gee with the soul of Bowie’s Major Tom, floating above his thick disco, funk, and trip-hop beats, beautifully manicured synth textures and easeful Yacht-soul melodies. Even when songs wander off into diffuse eddies, or when he crams several distinct micro-movements into the same tune, everything seems obsessively considered, as if he spends more time perfecting the hi-hat clicks than most artists take making their whole record. If someone told you an army of musicians had contributed to The Slow Rush, you wouldn’t be surprised, but the credits read simply, “All music written, performed, and mixed by Kevin Parker.”
He does his Brian Wilson thing in a dozen different directions. Album opener “One More Year” comes on expansive and polished, like a space cruiser that just rolled off the assembly line; glitchy Daft Punk-gone-doo-wop vocoder crooning fades into swirling disco drums, a subtle bass rumble, and splashes of Chic-y guitar as Parker sings about a perfect future just over the horizon. “Tomorrow’s Dust” is a hazy shade of hippie-folk splendor, all spindly acoustic filigree, forlorn fuzzbox jive, sensitive bongo taps, laser-beam synths, and gently sung lyrics that evoke pillowy alienation.
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Parker isn’t afraid to wear his musical passions on his sleeve; “Glimmer” highlights his deep devotion to the Balearic blurt of classic Chicago house music and Detroit techno. On “On Track,” Parker’s a soft-rock poet, and the keyboards at the opening of “Might Be Time” send a clear signal that he’s the kind of cat who keeps one copy of Supertramp’s Breakfast in America for the house, and another for the beach house.
What does all this gilded majesty add up to? Probably not a ton. A whole album of Parker’s distracted, reverb-laden falsetto can get a little too drifty, no matter how dazzling the musical experience. Focus too deeply, and it feels less like a collection of songs and more like a showplace for his sonic finery. As mood music, though, it’s a sweet trip. “Let’s drink this magic potion of love and emotion,” he offers on the radiantly sunny “Instant Destiny.” So sit back, relax, and have a swig — it’ll take the edge off.