The Lonerism Of Tame Impala's Lonerism

 Tame Impala's Lonerism has its own Lonerism

Tame Impala Lonerism

Perth is one of the most isolated major cities in the world. With just over 2 million people living in Perth, the closest city with a population of at least 100,000 in Adelaide, over 2,000 kilometers away. To Perth’s east is the uninhabitable Australian outback, and to its west is the sparse Indian Ocean

Tame Impala, The Beatles, The Beach Boys

Perth is a lonely urban oasis, and it’s also the birthplace of some of the best psychedelic rock artists of all time. That kind of makes sense, if you think about it. The psychedelic rock movement sprung up in the 1960s when seminal bands such as The Beatles and The Beach Boys started to experiment with hallucinogenic drugs and incorporate their use into the songwriting process.

They attempted to capture in their music the dissociative experience of being on these psychoactive drugs. Long extended jams would take you under the music’s influence as exotic instruments transport you to far unknown frontiers. Droning and buzzing timbres provide a hazy backdrop that blurs your peripherals, while unsteady guitar effects like the wah-wah and whammy bend the environment around you, as strange digital manipulations infect your mind, all of which creates a surreal, insular soundscape.

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From the very beginning, isolation was written into the DNA of psychedelic music. Fast forward sixty years and quite poetically the lonesome Australian city of Perth has become a haven for psych-rock, birthing some of the biggest modern acts in the scene and ushering in a psychedelic revival across the country. And that idea of isolation continues to be explored in the music, in particular by one man named Kevin Parker.
Kevin Parker
The man behind everything- Kevin Parker.

Despite releasing his music under a band name, Tame Impala is a solitary project, with Kevin the sole singer and songwriter, performing and recording most of the instruments, and doing a vast majority of the production all himself.

Music is not so much a collaborative process for Parker, but an introspective expression of self.
This is because Kevin is a self-professed introvert, something he explores on Tame Impala's breakthrough debut album Innerspeaker.

In an interview with NME, Kevin said, on the track Solitude is Bliss, he romanticizes a life lived alone, relishing in the small pleasures of isolation and finding freedom in solitude. (“Nothing else matters, I don’t care what I miss / company’s okay, solitude is bliss.”)
I find freedom in solitude -Kevin Parker
Tame Impala’s 2012 follow-up Lonerism was a direct continuation of this idea. Being written in the wake of Innerspeaker's huge global success that catapulted Kevin onto the global stage, Lonerism explored the impact this international attention had on his introverted mind.

It was a new kind of isolation; not solitude, but social disconnection. That feeling of being in a crowd of people and yet feeling completely alone. This idea is established before you even hit play on the record. The title itself evokes the lifestyle of a loner, Kevin said with the album he was “trying to glorify being a loner.” It’s also achieved through the album art, a photograph taken by Kevin at the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, where he spent some time working on the album. You can see people in the gardens relaxing, sunbathing, just generally enjoying themselves and the company of others.

However, the photographer is not part of the scene - your perspective is separated by a wrought iron fence. In a way, it feels voyeuristic, that you are an unseen and unknown observer. And Kevin immediately addresses this feeling of anonymity in the album’s opening track Be Above It. (“And I gotta bide my time as a face in the crowd.”) Throughout its twelve tracks, Lonerism consistently makes reference to antisocial behavior.

The song Elephant is a portrait of a man so arrogant and egotistical that he drives away other people. (“Bet he feels like an elephant / shaking his big grey trunk for the hell of it.”) The obnoxious swagger of its chunky guitar hook paints the subject as someone large and imposing, who pushes themselves into the center of attention and demands to be noticed. This ultimately alienates him as others try to distance themselves from him, and try to ignore the elephant in the room.

In the song "Why Won't They Talk To Me?", Kevin laments a strange dichotomy experienced by introverts: the feeling of loneliness. While he once found bliss in solitude and was happy in his isolation, he now admits he does crave human interaction, just like anybody else. (“Destined to be lonely old me / whoopsie-daisy, I thought I was happy.”) Speaking as an introvert myself, introversion does not make you immune to loneliness.

Although socialization can be exhausting and we require that “alone time” to recover our energy, introverts do still share in that innate human desire for community. Kevin realizes that despite perhaps not enjoying all aspects of social interaction, it's important and healthy to connect with others and maintain relationships.

But Lonerism isn't content with just speaking about its themes. It's one thing to describe how loneliness feels, but Kevin goes one step further and attempts to make you feel his experience of loneliness and social disconnection through the actual music. Tucked in between the album's two biggest hits is a track called "Keep on Lying."

After a pair of verses upfront, the song gives way to an extended jam quite typical of psychedelic music. You start to disassociate as the hypnotic guitar riff loops, the euphoric synth builds and the heavy reverb displaces your sense of time.

And then you begin to hear the sound of conversation - like a dinner party that you’re physically present at, but mentally only semi-conscious. You try to engage, you try to listen to the conversation but you can’t make out any words or sentences, just the laughs and jovial yelps of people having fun. You want to join in, you want to be a part of the fun but you just can’t seem to connect with any one person. 

The music just continues to build eventually drowning out the people. The conversation becoming misplaced in the hazy psychedelic soundscape and you find yourself lost in the noise. A face in the crowd, behind the iron gates of the fence… [narration gets overwhelmed by music] And that is the feeling of Lonerism.

Being surrounded by people, but completely alone. Present, but disconnected. Social, but isolated. To me, Keep on Lying is the centerpiece of Lonerism. It perfectly captures a feeling I know all too well as an introvert - the alienation that stems from not being able to completely engage in social situations. Lonerism co-opts the dissociative effect of psychedelic music and applies it to a feeling that was so pervasive throughout the entire 2010s.

Tame Impala Gif
Tame Impala

The decade of social media which was supposed to connect us more than ever has ironically made many of us feel all the more socially isolated. Lonerism will stand as an image of this era when our lives were more crowded than ever before, and yet we felt so alone.

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