“They say people never change, but that’s bullshit, they do” — Tame Impala, “Yes, I’m Changing”
If you haven’t already, I recommend listening to Currents at sunset. The hypnotic melodies are a perfect compliment to the explosions of purple and orange hues in the sky. The pearly synths rise to the heavens before dramatically falling like the sun on the horizon. Its immersive nature creates an out-of-body experience. Like Frank Ocean in the lonely hours of the night or Anderson .Paak on a summer afternoon, Tame Impala’s opus feels elevated during the golden hour.
But why does Currents connect with my soul during this specific time of day? Is it just as simple as a mesmerizing soundscape? Kevin Parker, the face, brains, sound and voice behind Tame Impala is more than just a guitar, some drum patterns and a synthesizer. Sure, it’s easy to fall in love with his entrancing chord progressions, but an underrated aspect to Parker’s artistry is his songwriting. If you peel back the layers of psychedelic pop, disco and R&B on Currents, you’ll discover an autobiographical journey of a man afraid of change.
“Currents follows the progression of someone feeling like they are becoming something else,” Parker told Under The Radar in a 2015 interview. “They’re becoming the kind of person they thought they’d never become.”
What exactly is this change? For Parker, it’s his decision to break up with French singer Melody Prochet, a choice that the Australian native copes with throughout the entirety of the project. Currents is, by all means, a breakup album, but instead of dealing with the aftermath through the eyes of a heartbroken partner, the perspective is fixated on the person dishing out the pain. It’s an unconventional twist to the typical end-of-relationship narrative, but Parker successfully illustrates the emotional toll a separation can have on everybody involved.
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The track “Eventually” is Parker coming to grips with the fact that he’ll have to inflict irreparable damage to his lover for his own personal growth. “If only there could be, another way to do this / ‘Cause it feels like murder, to put your heart through this,” he croons. You can feel this crucial decision weighing heavily on his heart, but he knows this temporary pain will eventually lead to prosperity in the end. “And I know just what I’ve got to do, and it’s got to be soon / ‘Cause I know that I’ll be happier, and I know you will too.”
The change Parker makes, however, ends up having severe, short-term effects on his psyche. He sees a familiar reflection in his rearview mirror on “Past Life,” triggering a barrage of sentimental memories. He grapples with his own guilt on “‘Cause I’m A Man.” Finally, on the closing track “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” Parker battles his own self-doubt before coming to the euphoric realization that this difficult change turned out to be positive — a transformation that makes him “feel like a brand new person.”
The theme of change permeating throughout Currents impacts me in a different way. My fears don’t stem from a messy breakup with an ex-lover. Instead, they derive from the obstacles presented by maturity and the dread of reaching adulthood without a plan in place. For my entire life, the blueprint was laid down in front of me as clear as day: graduate high school, attend college, pursue my master’s degree and receive my diploma. Everything was so simple and straightforward. I was never concerned with the hardships that awaited me as soon as I walked off that graduation stage.
Change has a way of striking terror into your heart. The loneliness can engulf you. The fear of the unknown can overwhelm every fiber of your being. Deep down, I wanted to remain the carefree kid who lived in the moment — shrugging off any and all thoughts of how my post-college life would shift. When the day finally came, I was the furthest from prepared. I couldn’t help but relate to Parker’s plight on the introductory track “Let It Happen.” His vocals may be hidden beneath woozy electronic synths and a glitchy vocoder, but the climatic atmosphere mirrors his struggle to block out the chaos surrounding him.
“All this running around, I can’t fight it much longer / Something’s trying to get out, and it’s never been closer.”
His solution? Embrace the change. In the final section of “The Moment,” Parker repeatedly warns that “it’s getting closer.” Immediately after, you can hear the terrified response coming from his innermost thoughts, mimicking the same doubts I harbor deep in my own soul. “I’m not ready.” “I need a little more time.” As the chorus continues, however, the concerns begin to morph into pleas to persevere. “Don’t cry, we’ll be okay.” “Hold on and breathe if you can.” Over the course of Currents, you can sense Parker’s personal evolution — instead of responding to change with panic and despair, he welcomes it with open arms.
Listening to Currents for the last five years, I’ve learned that change should be met with acceptance. The turbulent nature of change may be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary in order to mold you into the person you are destined to become. Perhaps this realization is the reason I queue up Currents for my sunset drives. I’m no longer afraid of the sun going down and what the next day might bring. I’m just going to let it happen.