It’s been a minute since I’ve dropped the needle on a record and gotten behind the keyboard. Good to be here. If you’re just getting in on this countdown now you can get caught up by clicking the links below:
#18: Lemonade – Beyonce
#16: Lonerism – Tame Impala
One of my favorite music topics is how a person’s opinion of a song or album can be influenced by where you were when you first heard it. Who you were with. What was happening at the time. The right atmosphere can automatically stamp a good memory on that song in your brain that can’t be erased. Once it’s there, one listen can take you back to that time and place. You can close your eyes and envision it. Maybe even smell it. Every time I hear “Gin and Juice” or “This is How We Do It” I’m back at a house party in college. When I hear “Mambo No. 5” I can remember when I first started dating my wife. When we first started going to clubs together in Milwaukee (almost exactly 20 years ago) we would hear that infectious Lou Bega track every time. “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys was our first dance at our wedding and every listen takes me right back there.
It goes the other way, too. Justin Timberlake’s entire Man of the Woods album was kind of ruined for me because I first heard it the day after we found out that my wife’s breast cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. It’s all I can think about when I hear those songs. There are several songs from 1988 that remind me of the death of my 7th grade classmates. That’s 31 years ago this week and I can hear “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS and it still brings back the sadness like it was yesterday.
Where am I going with this? Few albums take me back to a specific time and place quite like Lonerism. I’ve told this story here before so I’ll just lazily place a link here to it and not bother to retell. I’ll give the condensed version instead. Summer of 2014. I was visiting my brother in Seattle and we made an impromptu drive to the Pacific Coast. On the way back to Seattle through the Olympic Peninsula under cover of darkness my brother introduced me to Tame Impala. Under any other circumstance it might have just gone in one ear and out the other. That night I was mesmerized. The trippy, ethereal vibe of the music blended perfectly with the way the full moonlight in the clear night sky traced the silhouette of the mountaintops in the distance. I was also more than a little bit car sick, which contributed to the strangeness of the night.
It’s not just the good memories that make this album great, though. I don’t know of anyone making music like Kevin Parker at the moment. I keep trying to find others, but there’s nothing quite like it.
This category is loaded because, like many of the albums on my list, it’s just solid from start to finish. If I’m nit picking I’ll say I think the album loses a bit of steam toward the end. Regardless, it’s not easy to eliminate songs from consideration. It also changes for me constantly, so what I tell you now might not be the case if I listen to it while I’m in a different mood next week…or even tomorrow. Right now my choice is Apocalypse Dreams. It fits every mood. Uptempo and bouncy throughout, but it occasionally slips in to half speed and turns in to a keyboard (and sitar?) infused trip.
Full disclosure: In five years of listening to Tame Impala I’ve never once paid attention to lyrics. This music is all about the atmostphere. I don’t even think about lyrics. He conveys emotion through sound, not words. It’s like jazz to me. No words necessary. I know he’s singing because he sounds like John Lennon, but he could just be singing vowel sounds through the entire album and I wouldn’t notice.
I feel obligated to make a choice here, though, so I did listen to the album while reading along to the lyrics. It was fascinating. Some of the songs are so simple you’d think they lyrics were written by children, and I don’t necessarily mean that as an insult. Other songs are deep and thought provoking.
I look down at my feet
It’s a hypnotist’s arm
And it works like a charm
But I won’t be deprived
Real worlds, surreal life
Do or die
There is time
Go to sleep
You’ll be fineIn the morning you’ll find
Real life was such a grind
Off I go, day is done
Where a new one’s just begun
These are the lyrics to the second track on the album, Enders Toi. I’ve listened to this song 100 times and had no idea what he was singing. I won’t attempt to interpret it now. Just enjoy. I’m not sure I know any more about what the song is about post-lyric reading, but it’s certainly cool and poetic, so that’s my pick.
Favorite Slow Jam/Chill Song
Can I pass? You know what? I pass. Seriously, this is not a slow jam album, and despite the laid back vibe throughout, I wouldn’t call this a chill album either. Not sure what it is. Trippy disco? Passing seems weak. I need to pick something. Don’t judge me. How about the second half of Sun’s Coming Up? I’m not sure I’d call it music. More like a series of keyboard noises. It’s the most chill part of the album, though, I guess?
Ring Walk Song
If you’ve read my previous recaps you know that this category was “Favorite Hype Song” but I like the Ring Walk concept better, so I’m changing it up. Actually, this is a terrible album for Ring Walk Songs. I’d like to see some super chill stoned ass boxer walking up to the ring smiling his ass off to any song on this album. “Elephant” is probably the obvious choice, but I’m going with Apocalypse Dreams again here. It’s got a good tempo, driving beat, and the lyrics – at least in the first verse – seem to fit.
Favorite Happy Song
I’m trying not to pick the same song for everything, so I’m going with Led Zeppelin here. No, you’re not misreading that. There’s a song on this album called “Led Zeppelin.”
Song I’d Play if I Was DJing
OK, I’m starting to regret this award gimmick with this album. Lonerism is about one vibe from start to finish for me. Picking a happy song or a hype song on this album is excruciating. I’m not sure what song I’d play at a party, either. The whole album? Give me Mind Mischief for this one. Just let that crazy drum groove ride while you hold your drink in the air and maybe do a Flava Flav dance.
6th Man Award
This is nearly impossible to pick because I truly know very little about Tame Impala outside of the fact that it’s one apparently inanely talented guy. Hard to make him the MVP and the 6th man on his album. I give the nod here to my brother instead. We were picking out music to play on that legendary ride back to Seattle and I thought I’d wow him with Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet. Maybe I did, but he definitely blew me away with Tame Impala. I’ve been listening to that album and Currents non-stop ever since and I eagerly await Valentine’s Day 2020 for the release of the next Tame Impala project.
Well, once again I’ve fallen behind on my attempt to get 19 of these done by the end of the decade. I think I can still get there. The higher on the list I get, the more excited I am to write about them. Album #15 on the list comes from a Grammy-nominated Australian band that describes themselves as “multi-dimensional, polyrhythmic gangster shit.” Stay tuned…