“Lonerism,” the second LP by Australian band Tame Impala, can best be described by the title itself. All of the tracks deal with themes of loneliness and exclusion, but the album also asks the question: “Do I want to be one of them?”
The cover image reflects this theme perfectly. The perspective is from behind a gate barring entrance into the (seemingly) beautiful park beyond, but when you study the people, you begin to notice that they seem to be a distasteful crowd. A girl sneers and tosses her head in abject disgust, a man leers at a woman’s chest while touching himself. “Lonerism” is an album that contains many parallels within, but sometimes they are too incongruous to be a unified whole.
It’s easy to say that Tame Impala sounds like another band. One minute they channel Brit Pop via Blur or even Oasis, but the next they sound like modern psychedelia with touches of Neon Indian and MGMT. Lead singer Kevin Parker’s Beatles-esque voice makes the vestige of John Lennon omnipresent throughout the album. The opening track, “Be Above It,” begins differently than anything those other bands would produce. A sample repeating the title spins into life before being swarmed with buzzing synths, a simple drumbeat and skillful guitar playing. The cycle churns and repeats itself for the duration of the track, a technique used a lot on “Lonerism.” The band builds up a main hook on which most of the song is based, sometimes turning the entire track into one long chorus. On some tracks such as “Mind Mischief,” the main hook is not anything too new or exciting, which is a failure on the songwriting end.
“Lonerism” is also filled with big, sprawling, mostly instrumental sections. Tracks such as “Endors Toi” are nearly entirely instrumental; vocals don’t enter the song until past the halfway point. The album is a little hefty at 51 minutes and some of the extended instrumental parts seem superfluous — not because vocals are always necessary, but because it is mostly the same hook repeated ad nauseum. The band has more pop moments with songs like “Apocalypse Dreams,” which is one of the standout tracks. Parker’s voice soars alongside the blaring guitars and synths to a sprawling conclusion. The other clear standout is “Elephant,” which has first single material written all over it. The mantra-like main verse with its spindly guitar licks moves the song along perfectly. As one of the shorter tracks, it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
The album also veers in an interesting direction with tracks like “Why Won’t They Talk to Me?” and “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” which both have a shimmering quality to them. They sound like they could be played in some futuristic club. The warbling samples with the simple plucky guitar playing make the former song one of the more memorable ones. “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” has a more sunshine pop vibe to it, but the lyrics are not as optimistic as the instrumentation implies. Most of the lyrics on “Lonerism” are not the happiest lyrics of the year. From “Am I getting closer/Will I ever get there/Does it even matter” (“Apocalypse Dreams”) to “And I know that I can’t let them bring me down/And I gotta bide my time as a face in the crowd” (“Be Above It”), the lyrics don’t exactly show a bright future.
The final two tracks are the most ambitious of the entire album. But the two highlight one of the biggest problems apparent on “Lonerism.” The production on the entire album does not give credence to the band and the quality suffers from it. The lo-fi approach on some tracks drowns out the layered hooks that are buried in the mix. The mixing is also at fault; the vocals sound as if they are competing with the band.
“Lonerism” stands as a monolith in both thematic and sound quality. Tame Impala has managed to build a sound and atmosphere all on their own, which is impressive for a band so early in its career. If anything, “Lonerism” stands as a template off of which the band can work.