The beginning of third Tame Impala album Currents finds Kevin Parker in a period of transition. “I heard about a whirlwind that’s coming ’round,” he sings, “It’s gonna carry off all that isn’t bound.” Whirlwinds are a symbol of change. They represent evolution powered by exceptional forces. The kind beyond human control. What better way to begin an album about Parker’s own personal evolution? “When it happens,” he adds, “I won’t be holding on.”
The rise of Tame Impala
Tame Impala began as a bedroom recording project from the most isolated city on earth. After uploading a Cream-inspired psychedelic rock song to Myspace in 2007, Kevin Parker struck an unlikely deal with a record label based 4,000 kilometres away. Despite its remote location, Kevin Parker’s genre-blending songs created a cult following online. By the time of the release of debut album InnerSpeaker in 2010, thousands around the world had begun to listen to what this lonely voice from Perth, Australia had to say.
After Tame Impala made its first international tour in 2009, invitations to several international music festivals followed. Capturing the hallucinogenic feeling of these mass gatherings, Tame Impala quickly became a regular presence at Coachella, Glastonbury, and other celebrated festivals across the world. By 2015 the name Tame Impala had become implanted in the conciseness of generations of music fans.
Currents was a transition from indie to pop
At this point, Kevin Parker could have stayed the course remaking the psychedelic pop fantasies of Lonerism. He could have continued shoegazing in the style of InnerSpeaker. The stage, however, was set for something greater. Stepping into the spotlight, Tame Impala embraced the unexpected. It gave its fans, and millions more, an album they did not know how much they needed until they had it.
Currents arrived on July 17, 2015. It marked a transition from a one-man bedroom recording project masquerading as an indie rock band to a superstar pop act. With Kevin Parker now confident with Tame Impala’s purpose (and more certain of his own) he gave the world a party album about the life-changing moments of coming of age.
A psychedelic vision of isolation, ecstasy, and modern love
Currents was an album that could go anywhere. Kevin Parker had grown up an outsider. His musical tastes reflected this. He liked Daft Punk, Outkast, Stevie Wonder, Supertramp, Micheal Jackson, and The Strokes. Currents embodied the idea that songs rather than albums or rigid genre categories were important. “He’s a one-off song kind of dude,” Tame Impala live bandmember Jay Watson shared with Happy Magazine in 2019.
With Currents Tame Impala‘s mastermind was now feeling bold. He was trusting his own instincts as a songwriter and producer. Brimming with passion and newfound confidence, Kevin Parker brought all these influences into sharp focus. Growing more comfortable with his musical and real-life identity, he created an expansive psychedelic vision of isolation, ecstasy, and modern love.
Tame Impala connected with a generation of fans
Music is about connection. Currents is not simply remarkable for what Parker achieved but the strong emotional reaction it triggered in a generation of fans. It did so because Parker’s lyrics had depth. They explored the pressures of modern life. Collected as an album, they reflect a series of dramatic emotional changes in Parker’s personal life.
Following the release of Lonerism, he broke off a relationship with french pop artist Melody Prochet. A year and a half prior to recording Currents he reconnected with his high school crush and now-wife Sophie Larence Parker. The story of how this may have happened are recounted in the lyrics of Currents ‘Past Life’.
“It is about a guy who’s growing up,” Kevin Parker told with Mojo Magazine in 2015. “He’s moved on. There was this crazy part of his life, completely unhinged and romantic… He sees someone he hasn’t seen since that time. And it completely time-warps him.”
Tame Impala made music for a genreless era
Currents arrived alongside the music streaming era. Millions who no longer inserting CDs into car radios or lowering vinyl onto a stylus. They were discovering music through their phones. As a result genres titles, used by record bins and music shop speciality sections, were disappearing in the popular imagination. A Spotify playlist could include music from any era. Feeding on Parker’s growing confidence, Currents mingled rap, disco, synth-pop, shoegaze, and R&B.
Bringing these sounds together was Parker’s musicianship. “Ever since I discovered playing music it just totally took over my sense of who I was,” Kevin Parker shared with ABC in 2015, “my sense of identity. From the moment I went to my first drum lesson [at] 10 years old, I was like ‘this is me’.”
Parker had been playing the drums since age 10, writing songs since age seven, and playing the guitar with his father at an early age. At age 12 he began primitive recording experiments with a pair of tape recorders he found in his father’s home studio. By the time of Currents Parker could write, record, perform, mix and master an album to a standard many musicians could only envy. More remarkable still was his creativity. Currents speaks its own musical language. Not only could he draw from different musical styles, Kevin Parker made them his own.
Kevin Parker in 2015.
‘Currents’ is about embracing change
Tame Impala announced the album on January 6, 2015. ‘Let It Happen’ followed on March 11. Parker later described the song as the soundtrack of internal struggle. “It’s a powerful feeling,” he told ABC in 2015, “when you realize that ‘this is happening’. There are things that are changing, sometimes without your consent. When that happens it’s quite a powerful thing, so much so that it felt like the whole album could be based around that feeling.”
The song could easily be a towering rock track in the tradition of Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd. it was also a rave thumper. The song’s popularity was exceeded only by Tame Impala’s most well-known single ‘The Less I Know The Better‘. The song’s reputation continues to grow with time. In 2020, it captured the imagination of another generation after becoming one of Generation Z’s TikTok’s anthems of choice. What is more, its crunchy bassline spawned countless pop imitators.
“I just wanted to make a high fidelity album,” Park explained in 2020. “I was listening to a lot of R&B at that time, really clean, impactful sounds. So I just wanted to make a silky album. I wanted to embrace being a producer more because I started to idolize hip-hop producers and R&B producers more so than artists even sometimes.”
What does the cover of ‘Currents’ mean?
The packaging of the album was equally potent as what lay within. Created by artist Robert Beatty it is clear, simple, and immediately striking. A silver orb sits within an ocean of turbulent purple waves. This reflects the birth of order, creation rising from purple waves of primordial chaos. This reflects the albums key theme, love’s arrival. Thought it could just as easily represent the spark of creative genius or a pearl of inner bliss shining brightly amidst the turmoil of the subconsciousness.
Currents’ gatefold cover
Tame Impala’s ‘Currents’ turns six years old today
In the six years since its release, Currents has taken on a life of its own. Even the arrival of the well-received fourth Tame Impala album The Slow Rush could not displace it in the imagination of Tame Impala’s now millions-strong international following. What is more, the album has had a seismic impact on music culture.
There are a number of elements working in conjunction which made it happen. Currents delivered powerful songwriting, timeless themes, danceable rhythms, a groovy cover, and a musical journey revealing a new set of mysteries with each new listen. In a word, a classic album.
The timing of Currents cannot be understated. The evolution of Kevin Parker’s skills as a producer and musician arrived at a time in his life which was also fertile material for deeply meaningful songs. Those who believe everything happens for a reason can argue it was the album Kevin Parker had been preparing for his entire life to make. And when the moment came, he seized it.