Barring a few exceptions, the notion of ‘guitar music’ has fallen into a malaise formed by over reliance on well-worn tropes and a preoccupation with its glittering past. While hip-hop has been ceaselessly breaking new ground, the stasis in rock ‘n’ roll is only meaningfully subverted by a scant few. The likes of St. Vincent, Beach House, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Parquet Courts are exceptions to the rule, but there is no artist that has done more to upend this derisory perception of guitar-based fare in the past decade than Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker.
The mastermind behind Australia’s leading purveyors of psychedelia, Tame Impala became a by-word for innovation in the music world after their 2010 debut Innerspeaker, and this reverence has only grown by agilely leaping from its sun-kissed dreaminess to the inward-facing disco odyssey of 2015’s Currents. Once an elusive and hermetic figure, the greatest irony of the band’s 2012 breakout LP Lonerism is that it made its reluctant focal point a messianic figure to fans the world over. With their acclaim at its apex after their third LP, it would be only natural for Parker and co. to head back into the studio, forge ahead, and cement their legacy. And yet not a solitary morsel of new music has arrived.
Despite widespread longing for another tome of enveloping psych rock, you’d need only look as far as hip-hop’s new penchant for the transcendent to see Parker’s indelible influence at work. Initially circulated as a leak, this past November saw the formal unveiling of “Sundress,” the first post-Testing single from A$AP Rocky, and one which was met with a mixture of bewilderment and delight. Praised for its irrepressible groove, the ethereal quality of its instrumental can be largely attributed to its use of Tame Impala’s “Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?”, a record which has roots in hip-hop dating back to G-Side’s “Gettin It” from 2011. Less a sample as it is a fully-fledged reimagining with help from Parker himself, any Flacko scholar would know that his affinity for the band’s work goes back to the nascent stages of his career.
Informed by Rocky’s fondness for the South’s promethazine-drenched ‘chopped and screwed’ sound, one of his ‘Slowed Down Sessions’ from 2013 gave us “Unicorn”, a languorous retake on Lonerism highlight “It Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.” In keeping with the ‘cloud-rap’ narrative of the time, what Flacko couldn’t have known is how endemic this was of a reciprocal admiration between Parker, R&B and hip-hop. A year on from Rocky’s low-risk dabbling, the enlistment of Tame Impala’s breakout track in hip-hop would move from archival rarities and into the public domain courtesy of Kendrick Lamar’s “Backwards” from the Divergent OST. The antithesis of Rocky’s slant, Kendrick overrode the source material’s wooziness in favor of the sort of highly-strung barrage of rhymes that typifies his less commendable work in the pop sphere.
Unbeknownst to the MCs and producers that were recalibrating Parker’s works for their own ends, their antipodean inspiration was as enamored with the sounds of New York, ATL, and LA as they were with his own brand of neo-psychedelia. As disclosed in an interview with The Observer, the Fremantle-based musician spoke of his immense respect for Odd Future in the wake of 2012’s The OF Tape Vol 2. Brought to his attention by bandmate Dominic Simper, Parker appeared to view them as kindred spirits in sonic dissidence by stating: “I think they’re amazing. I like how they’re not afraid to say whatever they want. They’re not feeling confined – it’s refreshing.”
Although he insisted that he wasn’t “an avid hip-hop listener,” what soon transpired points toward Tyler’s gaggle of provocateurs igniting a spark in Parker that perhaps dispelled any misgivings towards the music that curmudgeonly rock purists would cite as their mortal enemy. When tasked with curating a cover for Australia’s Triple J in 2013, Tame Impala pulled from a perplexing yet by no means unwelcome source by delivering a version of OutKast’s “Prototype.” Remaining faithful to the long-time fan favorite’s funky, George Clinton-inspired inclinations, this rendition has become a coveted footnote for completists as a B-side and, when viewed from today’s vantage point, acts as a precursor for what was waiting just around the corner.
Now firmly acquainted with the parameters of the genre, 2015 saw Parker make a bold deviation from his sonic palette by producing jazz-rap outfit Koi Child. In spite of the group remaining in relative obscurity outside of their native Australia, the resultant album that Kevin helmed is by no means short on the experimental intent that made his own output so enthralling. Assisted by former bandmate Nicholas Allbrook of Pond, the record arrived within months of an unlikely crossover that ushered in a new era of notoriety for Parker and his band.
The track that fortuitously wedged the floodgates open for what was to come, Tame Impala’s renown in this pocket of the industry was increased tenfold by the arrival of Rihanna’s surprise record ANTI. With an invigorating cover of Currents’ closing track “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” at its center, Riri’s spotlighting of the track and the near total lack of tampering it underwent was seen as “a compliment” by Kevin and a seal of approval that didn’t go unnoticed by culture at large. With the news of the singer’s desire to record it cause for “pinching himself,” the impending inundation of collabs, samples, and other positive appraisals from a community so diametrically removed from his own experience must’ve left him positively elated.
A month removed from “Same Ol’ Mistakes,” the applicability of Parker’s euphoric soundscapes in R&B was firmly reiterated by his remix of Miguel’s “Waves.” The highlight of an EP that showcased the Wildheart artist’s versatility, the wondrousness of this rework’s textures and the interplay of Parker and Miguel’s vocals made for a truly special end product that, in the view of many, even surpassed the original. From here on out, the calls for bespoke production work or simple meetings of the mind came in thick and fast, and has birthed a wealth of awe-inspiring material to date.
In lieu of the band’s fourth album, a project which he aims to unleash by summer 2019, the void has been made far less daunting by Parker’s work in this hospitable surrogate of a genre. A transition that he equates to the allure of creating “an absolute collage of sounds and flavors and ideas” that refutes the rigidity of other forms, these collaborations range from lauded artists on the precipice of worldwide fame such as Kali Uchis to the retrofuturism of he and Theophilus London’s “Only You” cover.
An artist that he cited as having “”found the antidote” to “judgement and doubt” during a 2015 AMA, this year saw Kevin stride onto the interchangeable terrain that was collaborating with Kanye West during the ye sessions. Although this team-up wasn’t as fruitful as he’d once hoped, another summoning from 2018 would result in something truly stratospheric. Co-written by the man himself with vocals from Pharrell and The Weeknd, Kevin’s work with Travis Scott on ASTROWORLD’s “Skeleton”’ is the sound of two fiercely creative minds suppressing any egotism in order to attain near-perfect coalescence.
With such an array of Parker’s forays into hip-hop and R&B out in the world, it’s actually one that has yet to be released that has caused one of the biggest stirs. More robust than sessions with her TDE running mate Kendrick, the music crafted by the trio of Parker, Mark Ronson and SZA has taken on a life of its own over the past year. A fabled body of work due to Kevin’s fretfulness over whether it will ever be unveiled, a track from this pre-CTRL hook-up was aired during the two producers’ DJ set at Governor’s Ball and did nothing to quench their fanbase’s desire to hear it in all its glory. Invoking the sound of Nile Rodgers’ Chic and “Rapture- era Blondie before rendering in SZA’s enigmatic delivery, it would be a disservice if the tentatively titled “Together” and its other accompaniments never saw the light of day.
The accolade of genius is too frivolously distributed in this transient industry, often allotted to anyone that goes beyond the drudgery of the norm to create something even vaguely original. With that said, there are few 21st century artists that fit the bill more astutely than a man who went from making transfixing psych-rock on a “67 Rickenbacker to being the toast of hip-hop’s upper reaches. A relationship that’s predicated on the same commitment to inventiveness that fostered his love of Odd Future, the boundary-breaking approach of his guitar-based forebears is alive and well in today’s prevailing art form, and it ensures that this union between Parker and hip-hop’s innovative minds has no foreseeable expiration date.
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