I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen the jelly beans video reposted online. Exactly 28,835 jelly beans, one for each day in a lifetime. I scroll past it every time, only to have a “memory” of a photo I was tagged in a year ago flash on my screen. Keep scrolling. A trailer for the next “Star Wars” movie, out in just 47 days! The irony of the jelly beans, of course, is that we’re addicted to the high of sobering perspective. We’re hyper-aware of the passage of time, leading lives of countdowns and memories and nostalgia, and yet it’s in our nature to be overwhelmed by change.
On Feb. 9, 2019, Kevin Parker got married. On “The Slow Rush,” his fourth album as Tame Impala, he faces the idea of eternity head-on. With song titles such as “Lost In Yesterday,” “Tomorrow’s Dust” and “One More Year,” the record sees Parker grappling with a hyper-awareness of his position in the timeline of his life. He clings to routine, rages against lost time and fears for the future, but there’s hope in every part of it. Really, it’s a miracle to have time at all, and doubly so to spend that time with loved ones.
“One More Year” kicks off the album with all of these sentiments. Parker anxiously admits, “I never wanted any other way to spend our lives / I know we promised we’d be doing this ‘til we die / And now I fear we might.” He remembers how careless and free he felt a year ago, blissfully ignorant to the future. Now that he’s married and facing the forever ahead, his demons are begging for one more year of turning a blind eye to tomorrow. Parker’s voice, glitched out and stuttering, moans the song’s title and his lead vocals wrestle with the idea of another year of ignoring eternity. Functionally, it’s reminiscent of and as effective as James Blake’s electronic falsetto in “Don’t Miss It,” the haunting backing vocals representing his inner demons dragging him into his phone to let time pass him by.
Time and anxiety about the future are areas rich with varying perspectives and narrative potential, and “One More Year” acts as a perfect introduction to a record about such themes. The problem with “The Slow Rush,” however, is that it struggles to expand on the basic idea that time is a rush and the future is scary. On at least half the songs, Parker addresses such anxiety, but leaves it at that, failing to offer any interesting ideas. These tracks, including “Instant Destiny” and lead single “Borderline,” also feature similarly catchy beats and washed-out synths. They’re fun on their own, but their similarity in both instrumentation and theme blends them into a soundtrack rather than a main event.
The exceptions to this run of sameness are by far “The Slow Rush”’s highlights. “Posthumous Forgiveness” features an anxious funk riff not unlike that of Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” as Parker professes his resentment for his late father, from whom he was estranged for much of his life. He cries, “Did you think I’d never know? Never wise up as I grow? Did you hope I’d never doubt? Never one day work it out?” Percussive synths advance the track’s first part to a cacophonous climax of frustration, but what follows is a melancholy and somewhat hopeful second part, in which Parker tries to understand his father. “You didn’t know that I suffered / What a thing to discover,” he admits. The song closes with the time he wishes he had with his father, or maybe any father: “Wanna tell you ‘bout the time / Wanna tell you ‘bout my life / Wanna tell you ‘bout my life / Wanna play you all my songs / Hear your voice sing along.”
“Tomorrow’s Dust” is another welcome change of pace. In an album full of intense synths and electronics that often distance us from Parker, the track’s acoustic guitar and relatively raw drum beat reel us back in. Parker sings about deeply personal emotions throughout “The Slow Rush,” and acoustic instrumentation such as this is so effective in connecting us with these feelings. The record’s almost complete lack of such stripped-down sounds is frustrating and distancing, and it’s why “Tomorrow’s Dust” is one of the album’s standout songs.
Despite the instrumentation and structure’s failure to keep the record’s themes compelling, it must be noted that Parker’s production is phenomenal. Any one of these songs in isolation is a stunning work of art, a labor of love in which every synth and beat has been mixed to perfection. Featuring influences ranging from Daft Punk to P-Funk, “The Slow Rush” is a wonder of production. With no slight to the swirling soundscapes of “Innerspeaker” and “Lonerism” or the synth-pop spectacle of “Currents,” producer Kevin Parker is clearly at the top of his game.
“The Slow Rush” closes with “One More Hour,” an epic saga of quiet suspense interspersed with explosive synth bursts. Kevin Parker finds himself accepting the slow rush of time. The important things in his life, namely his new wife and being himself, are clear to him now in this final hour of the year he faced at the start of the album. Although such a satisfying and revelatory ending would be stronger if it concluded a more structured narrative arc, the message hits home, and as Parker’s voice fades away, we’re left still longing for the past, but a little less anxious about the future.