(Modular Recordings; 2010)
By Chris Molnar | 3 June 2010
With a great debut album comes great responsibility. The La’s, the Sex Pistols, the Wu-Tang Clan—where could they go after beginning so…wholly formed? Instead, a less-than-great debut album does one of two things to succeed: it either invites the possibility of failure or it offers something special that must be nurtured and nourished into full realization. Innerspeaker, the debut from Western Australian four-piece Tame Impala, is definitely the latter, not too much more than Jay Watson’s inventive, crunchy drums accompanied by a nice enough wash of psychedelia. And so, the best way to enjoy the pleasures of this LP is to take a big toke, lie back, and let the band gestate.
Thankfully, the band members don’t seem to be all that worried either. The portentously titled “It Is Not Meant To Be” quickly reveals itself to be a rather silly paean to a girl who “doesn’t like sand stuck in her feet / or sitting around smoking weed.” Sonically, the stage has been set for just about every track: those quick-yet-groovy drums mixed to the front; a phased out guitar doing its thing (y’know: its thing) in the back, necking with the vocals. It sounds great, at least as a drum showcase first and foremost, and as atmospheric psych-rock second. But without the hooks within, say, Dungen’s bottled hurricane of technical chops, or the Fridmann-assisted large-scale pop of the Flaming Lips and MGMT, Tame Impala’s debut is only a drum showcase and then maybe an atmospheric psych-rock record, nothing to distinguish the songs or album as anything but a pleasant haze of uncomplicated riff rock. Which can eventually seem as lamely obvious as half their name suggests.
This wouldn’t be a problem if the sound itself had sharper edges, if the listener was allowed to find a hold, grip the music. But, of course, the first tenet of psychedelia is to sand down any edges into lysergic bliss, the joy of such music left to discovering moments that worm out of the woodwork, to finding an excellently deft lead or chorus suddenly under one’s nose. As it is, there are just enough standout moments to lead Innerspeaker out of dullness and predictability: try the Hendrix-ian lurch of “Solitude is Bliss,” how it stops and starts, a solo bursting off the crest of Watson’s enormous fills; cherish the simple lead guitar of instrumental “Jeremy’s Storm,” how it’s amped, again, by the crisp ride cymbal and jazzy propulsion of the drums. If Tame Impala ever just loosened up released an all-instrumental drums+guitar album, such would be incredible.
Vocal interplay is their bread and butter, though, and “Expectations” takes advantage of such simple progressions to lend focus to the guitar, leaving the voices to float up and down in the aether. Ultimately, the simplicity of the music is both Tame Impala’s biggest asset and their most damning weakness. The declarative garage-rock of “I Don’t Really Mind” is too shallow for the kind of Olivia Tremor Control knob-twiddling to which they seem to aspire—when the words are simple and forceful, the music ought to follow suit. But when all the pieces fall into place, like in the unadorned jam of “Desire Be Desire Go” and its release into an open-ended solo, there’s a feeling of a great, basic stem cell of a band at hand, one that has the ability to carve out a new niche in a genre that usually resists such singularity. That is, if the band can be bothered to keep growing.