Both of the artists that I’ve decided to talk about this week write pop music, but in two quite different senses of the word. Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker sounds uncannily like John Lennon, and his music tends to take us on a journey exploring all the ways a certain melody can be distorted. The Killers and their frontman Brandon Flowers take their cues from the eighties, aiming for the rafters with their songs.
Battle Born – The Killers
The Killers are more than a decade old, but they certainly don’t sound like it. Perennially caught somewhere between the synthesizers of New Order and the guitars of Springsteen, their newest release Battle Born (the words that appear on the flag of the band’s home state, Nevada) finds them comfortably at home, defending the ground they’ve staked out as one of the last true arena rock bands of our era.
The opening track “Flesh and Bone” appropriately nails down the band’s mission statement, with synthesizers and strings swirling around the voice of front man Brandon Flowers, who sounds like he hasn’t parted with the youthful Americana of Sam’s Town.
Although Flowers is now 31, the Killers have tinkered with their formula well, evoking an energy that allows Flowers to deliver lines like “Defenses are down / Stakes are high / A fairytale ending / A staggering blow” while sounding completely genuine. Follow-up “Runaways” sounds as good as any single the Killers have ever released, with Flowers nearly literalizing the fantasy of youth with the opening lyrics, “Blonde hair blowin’ in the summer wind / A blue-eyed girl playin’ in the sand / I’d been on her trail for a little while / But that was the night she broke down and held my hand / A teenage rush.”
The band also shoots for some straight ballads over the course of the album, with songs like “Be Still” that tend to veer a bit too far in the direction of generic soft rock. Yet in “Be Still,” Flowers utilizes the full range of his voice to hold the track together. His delivery of lines like “Be still / Wild and young / Long may your innocence reign” conjure up a sympathy that makes it hard to doubt his authenticity.
On each of their four album covers, The Killers have used the same rendering of their name, a neon-styled sign that looks like it could be found somewhere on the outskirts of Vegas. We might imagine that sign to be just like The Killers themselves. It may flicker on and off in the empty desert night, worn out by a decade of wear, but it still emits a powerful light, captivating us with its glare.
Lonerism – Tame Impala
Synthesizers also play a major part in the latest release from Perth-based outfit Tame Impala, Lonerism, but in a much different fashion. Front man and auteur Kevin Parker (who composes and records most of Tame Impala’s material on his own) passes right by the eighties and digs into the psychadelia of the sixties and seventies. In doing so, he’s created a glorious mess of phased out guitars and billowing synthesizers, painted against hazy, spacious drum lines. If Tame Impala sounded like they were merely imitating psychedelic rock on their debut release Innerspeaker, Lonerism shows that they’ve managed to beautifully meld the genre with the electronics of the modern era.
Instead of adhering to traditional song structures, Parker treats the entirety of each song as a space for experimentation. This leads to pleasures like the opening track, “Be Above It.” From afar, the instrumentation and lyrics sound relatively uniform. But look closer, and with each listen all sorts of flourishes seem to magically reveal themselves. An echoing noise that sounds a lot like feet rushing up an empty stairwell makes its way into the rhythm. The guitar streaks in and out of the mix, slowly growing louder and more insistent. Snare drums seem to bounce off themselves, multiplying to the point of explosion.
None of the songs feel circular, instead choosing to constantly build upon themselves in such intricate fashion that each one feels like a little journey. The stomp of “Elephant” sounds like it might be emulating Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” before the guitars travel off in their own directions. A synthesizer cuts in, and the familiar elements of the song are suddenly pushed into a new space. Like the rest of the album, it appears familiar, but ends up a truly fantastical experience.