How have notions of time been represented in popular music?
Together in The Beatles alongside Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, both George Harrison and John Lennon experimented with warped sonics and extended time signatures in order to recreate the distorted feelings of time they had experienced while taking LSD. Kevin Parker himself has admitted to drawing inspiration from similar LSD induced experiences. “I’ve had a lot of experiences on acid,” he informed Q Magazine ahead of the release of The Slow Rush, “that I consider beneficial.” Two years after John Lennon released ‘Jealous Guy’, Pink Floyd launched into their own investigation on The Dark Side of the Moon‘s ‘Time‘. “It describes,” Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters later shared, “the predicament of anybody who, growing up suddenly realizes that time is going really, really fast. It makes you start to philosophize about life and what is important and how to derive joy from that.” Two decades later Pink Floyd were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by The Smashing Pumpkins‘ Billy Corgan. Corgan, whose music and approach to recording inspired Tame Impala, expressed his own view of time on 1996 single ‘Tonight, Tonight‘. Time, he sang, was never time at all.
Tame Impala's Kevin Parker ponders time.
‘One More Year’ opens Tame Impala‘s The Slow Rush. “Do you remember we were standing here a year ago?” Kevin Parker sings. “Our minds were racing and time went slow.”
The Longest Year In History
The feeling of time slowing down, some neuroscientists believe, is a function of human recollection. Whether a life threatening or life defining moment, certain points in our human experience result in a richer than usual encoding of memory. This may cause an event to be recalled in a way that feels as though it “lasted longer”.
This is a sharp contrast to how time flows through our perception in the present. In a joyful state time often feels like it moves quickly. In moments of boredom, joylessness or high anxiety it drags on.
For this reason ‘One More Year’ takes on a new kind of resonance in April 2021. Fans are coming to grips with a year without Tame Impala. Perhaps the longest one they have felt they have ever experienced. Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, the genre-blending music of The Slow Rush sounded like music from a future that hadn’t quite arrived. Who in February 2020 could have predicted the future we ended up with?
It has been more than a year since Tame Impala postponed its 20 plus date US arena tour. And more than 55 weeks since Kevin Parker and his band gave their last North American performances at California’s Inglewood Forum. On March 10 and 11, 2020 Tame Impala played to an audience of more than 25,000 screaming fans.
The concerts are believed to have grossed $1.82 million. The sizable payday came from but two of some twenty dates Tame Impala would play across the US that year. What is more important though is that this tour would have cemented Tame Impala’s transition from genre-hopping festival headliners to superstar act.
And then, of course, the coronavirus pandemic put everything on hold. “If there was trouble in the world we didn’t know,” Kevin Parker nostalgically sings on ‘One More Year’. “If we had a care, it didn’t show.”
Tame Impala and Time
In his natural state, the 18th century mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg believed, man feels circumscribed by the passing of measured time. He is often so influenced by the past and concerned for the future. The reality of the eternal present escapes him.
Discussions like these would not be unfamiliar to a typical Tame Impala fan. After all, a questioning of the human experience of time is The Slow Rush’s dominant theme. It is introduced with ‘One More Year’ and recurs throughout the album on tracks like ‘Instant Destiny’, ‘Tomorrow’s Dust’, and ‘Lost In Yesterday’. Kevin Parker then revisits the idea of ‘One More Year’ on closing track ‘One More Hour’. Even the sand-enveloped rooms on the album’s cover, which Parker captured in a once-affluent African mining village with photographer Neil Krug, hint at the transience of human existence.
The nature of time fascinates us. More than two thousand years ago Greek philosophers speculated that, relative to our body’s fleeting lifespans, time, like nature, was infinite. It was an eternal, unchangeable and indestructible force. Not unlike the soul.
Lost In Yesterday
We are no longer as superstitious as the ancient Greeks. In 1907 modern science figured out time was not unchangeable. Thanks to the work of history’s most popular scientist Albert Einstein, it is now known that time is relative and something gravity distorts. Medicine has shown the mind is linked to the body and, to pose a controversial but widely held view, will perish with it.
This feeling of impermanence was perhaps what prompted former Beatle George Harrison to, quoting from an ancient proverb, to sing ‘All Things Must Pass‘ in 1970. A year later his former bandmate John Lennon shared he had been dreaming of the past and that his heart was beating fast on ‘Jealous Guy’. (A song Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker recently covered on Instagram.)
Together in The Beatles alongside Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, both George Harrison and John Lennon experimented with warped sonics and extended time signatures in order to recreate the distorted feelings of time they had experienced while taking LSD. Kevin Parker himself has admitted to drawing inspiration from similar LSD induced experiences. “I’ve had a lot of experiences on acid,” he informed Q Magazine ahead of the release of The Slow Rush, “that I consider beneficial.”
Two years after John Lennon released ‘Jealous Guy’, Pink Floyd launched into their own investigation on The Dark Side of the Moon‘s ‘Time‘. “It describes,” Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters later shared, “the predicament of anybody who, growing up suddenly realizes that time is going really, really fast. It makes you start to philosophize about life and what is important and how to derive joy from that.”
Two decades later Pink Floyd were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by The Smashing Pumpkins‘ Billy Corgan. Corgan, whose music and approach to recording inspired Tame Impala, expressed his own view of time on 1996 single ‘Tonight, Tonight‘. Time, he sang, was never time at all.
The Stasis of Tame Impala
In 2020 the gravity of a deadly pandemic put billions of lives on hold. More than two million people lost their lives. Economies plunged. Society retreated indoors and waited for a better day.
Tame Impala was no exception. Despite several live streams, a re-release of first album InnerSpeaker and one-off Australian performances Kevin Parker and his band have remained tethered to their massive US touring commitments. With The Slow Rush Tour having been rolled back a number of times it is now slated to resume mid-year. But with news of the tour’s latest dates coming amidst a wave of festival cancellations and delays, few are certain these concerts will occur as planned.
What is more, this colossal tour itself is tied to promoting The Slow Rush. This makes the release of any new Tame Impala material unlikely. Given the glacial pace of Tame Impala’s recent album releases, new music seems far from a safe bet. In short? Tame Impala is in stasis. In April 2020 it stopped, along with the rest of the world.
Kevin Parker Made The Slow Rush On His Own Terms
And so fans have been left to sit with The Slow Rush. The album is noted for lacking the immediacy and pop-savvy swagger of the previous Tame Impala album Currents. It is an album Kevin Parker made on his own creative terms. Throwing back to the classic rock albums of the 1970s, The Slow Rush is a mystery to be contemplated. It rewards repeat listening.
Alongside the theme of time, The Slow Rush also deals with the fear of time’s most inevitable destination, death. Parker sings about mortality on ‘Tomorrow’s Dust’. He then interrogates a complicated relationship with his father, who passed away shortly before the release of InnerSpeaker, on ‘Posthumous Forgiveness’. This would seem like a grim burden for fans to bear were it not for another of the album’s key themes.
A Glimmer of Hope
Hope. With time comes change. While this can be for the worse it is often for the better. For all of its dark turns, The Slow Rush floats on a feeling of love and optimism. From bad comes good. And from good, bad. “I just want a glimmer of hope,” Kevin parker sings on ‘Glimmer’.
And like any true seeker, he finds it. The Slow Rush is also the arrival at Currents, Lonerism and InnerSpeaker‘s destination. Kevin Parker’s lonely lyrical narrator matures, reflecting his marriage to long term partner Sophie Lawrence the year before the album’s release and presaging the revelation in November 2020 that the couple was expecting a child.
Like the apocryphal story of the biblical character of Job, who a higher power puts through every conceivable form of human misery only to have him live happily ever after, Tame Impala’s stories of torment often have a happy ending. Even when he mourning his father on ‘Posthumous Forgiveness’ and seething at a perceived betrayal (Parker’s parents separated when he was young and his father was skeptical about his son’s choice in music as a career) Kevin Parker cannot help but conclude on his train of thought on a positive note. There have been many moments in his life that would have made a loving father proud.
Tame Impala Embraces The Present
As much as Kevin Parker’s music deals with being dragged back into the past, he overcomes uncertainty and embraces the present. “Years teach,” the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “what days can not.” ‘One More Hour’, alongside songs like Currents’ ‘The Moment‘ hint that Parker is coming to embrace another of Emerson’s famous sayings. With the past, Emerson once declared, he had nothing to do. Nor with the future. He lived now.
Did The Slow Rush Predict 2020?
In early 2020 The Slow Rush could be imagined as playing in some futuristic disco wonderland. Now it captures the stark unreality of the times. The Slow Rush is a soundtrack to the uncanny. A Tame Impala fan does not have to take hallucinogenic drugs to feel, as The Beatles’ John Lennon famously put it, “nothing is real.”
Or as Gen Z would more readily term it, like they are in The Simulation. Escaping the intention of its maker and taking on a life of its own The Slow Rush fits perfectly into an uncanny reality where something is not quite right (though one can’t exactly say what it is for sure). Then, of course, they see the glitch.
Tame Impala Preaches Patience
With hope that distribution of coronavirus vaccines will stem the pandemic running high, the world is waiting in anticipation for what comes next. Waiting, however, causes frustration. And from frustration comes anger.
The remedy to this anger is patience. In the Buddhist faith, a religion Kevin Parker has professed to have dabbled in, patience is considered amongst the greatest of virtues. Sentiments like these may have contributed to the title of 2019 standalone Tame Impala single ‘Patience‘. On the single Parker fluctuated between the idea that “Time waits for no one” and thoughts like, “another season changes and still my days are shapeless.”
Kevin Parker’s fluid view of time may have been shaping his music more than fans anticipated. After a 5-year wait, thousands of fans bought Tame Impala’s fourth album expecting a psychedelic pop record like Currents. Instead, they got the genre-blending surrealism of The Slow Rush. The album defied expectations. Before soundtracking a year where many learned to let go of them. Which flows into another Buddhist sentiment that we must let go of attachment and desire if we are to experience happiness.
When Will It End? Eventually
As much as we can live in the present it is difficult to cast our minds away from the future entirely. While it is quite impossible that Tame Impala somehow knew of the imminent unrealities of the year just passed, the last song performed on The Slow Rush Tour at Inglewood Arena may hold the answer to when the horrific impact of the pandemic will end. The answer to a billion homebound souls arrived more than a year ago with Tame Impala’s closing number ‘Eventually’. “But I know that I’ll be happier,” go the Current‘s era fan favorite’s well-known lyrics, “And I know you will, too. Said, I know that I’ll be happier. And I know you will, too. Eventually… Ah, ah, ah, ah.”
Tame Impala's Kevin Parker
Tame Impala Press Shot by Matt Sav
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