Tame Impala are due to release their new album The Slow Rush this week, a much-anticipated follow-up to 2015’s Currents. In this article, I revisited a few of my favourite tracks from Currents and deconstructed both the synth sounds and the production techniques responsible for the the albums unique sound.
The main synths that Kevin Parker used on Currents are the Roland Juno-106 and the Roland JV-1080, two very different synths from different eras. The Juno-106 is a typical 80s synths, with a lush, chorused sound. The JV-1080 is more a of a 90s digital synth, capable of producing a variety of realistic patches.
The article focuses on the tracks Nangs, Reality in Motion and Yes I’m Changing. I’ve covered the first two in previous articles, but the new patches are much more accurate and I’ve now recreated the entire songs. I also made full playthrough videos for all three songs with the new-look TAL U-NO-LX, that now features an on-screen keyboard.
Lastly, if you’ve been following this blog since I put out the original Tame Impala Synth Sounds articles in early 2017, thank you for the support, encouragement and requests that have helped this site grow!
Nangs was Tame Impala’s set-opener for many shows, and despite being a short, interlude-like track, it’s one of the most memorable moments on Currents. The main synth in Nangs can be recreated using TAL U-NO-LX, a software emulation of the Roland Juno-106 that Kevin Parker uses for recording. To create the patch, start by setting the sub-oscillator to 6, then set the filter frequency to halfway, resonance to 1, and mod amount to 2.
Now we’ll use an LFO to create the filter movement that creates the ‘wah-wah’ sound. In the LFO section, set trigger mode to ‘sync’, rate to 1/16 and shape to ‘saw’, which will create a rising modulation shape. The filter opens and closes throughout the track, which can be achieved with automation or performed in real-time. Finish the patch by turning on the Chorus II effect.
The track was likely recorded on the Roland Juno-106, however, the Juno-106 doesn’t have a sawtooth LFO shape, only triangle. The track also has an extra LFO adding slow vibrato at points, and the Juno only has one LFO. To record the track, Kevin may have recorded it in reverse using the envelopes to control the filter, and then flipped the final recording back around. This means any delay and reverb on the track would also end up being reversed, which adds to the surreal vibe of the sound.
- Nangs Wobble Synth 00:00
The staccato strings that come in at 0:21 sound like they come from the Roland JV-1080, which uses samples as a sound source. I used the Tremolo Strings patch from my JV sample pack with the tremolo effect turned off. Owners of either the hardware JV-1080 or the Roland Cloud plugin will find the patch called PRC: 041: TremoloStrng, just remember to disable the tremolo effect! Many of the other JV-1080 string patches use the same samples and will also be suitable for the track.
- Nangs JV Strings 00:00
There are two lead patches, and they double each other with the second lead sounding an octave higher. The patches are similar, both using a mix of sawtooth and LFO-modulated pulse waves. The first lead has LFO pitch vibrato, and the second lead is more airy with a high HPF cut. Both patches have the low-pass filter only slightly closed with wide-open envelopes. The two lead tracks are then panned slightly left and right, creating a wide sound in the stereo mix.
- Nangs Lead 1 (Low) 00:00
- Nangs Lead 2 (High) 00:00
One of the most notable things about the production on Nangs (for me) is how wide the synths are in the stereo spectrum, which allows the bass and drums to cut through the middle of the mix. The Juno-106 chorus adds width to the tracks, as does panning the leads to the sides, but the width on Nangs is even more pronounced. To replicate the super-wide effect, I grouped all the synths and processed them with the free plugin Ozone Imager 2 with width set to 50%.
To recreate the tape-stop style pitch dips at 0:57 and 1:20, I used Ableton’s Delay effect, though other delays should be suitable. Set mode to ‘Repitch’ and automate the delay time to create the sudden fluctuations in pitch.
The bass guitar on the recreation track is a Fender P-Bass processed with Soundtoys Decapitator and PSP OldTimer. The drums are from PastToFuture’s Impala Currents Drums sample pack with some extra processing.
Reality in Motion
The main synth that plays throughout the song is a Juno brass sound, with a medium-attack filter envelope creating the brassy fade-in. The Juno patch is relatively simple, but it’s been processed with lots of effects, possibly from Kevin’s guitar pedalboard, to create a saturated sound washed in reverb.
From TAL U-NO-LX’s default patch, lower the sub oscillator’s volume to 2.5, turn on the square wave oscillator and raise the pulse-width fader to 3. Raise the HPF filter to 4, to filter out any low-end frequencies. For the main filter, lower the VCF cutoff to 0 and raise envelope amount to 10. This will completely control the filter with the envelope which should be set up with an attack of 5, decay of 8, sustain of 3 and release of 5.
There’s a small amount of LFO vibrato, so set raise the LFO fader at the top-left to 2, set the LFO trig-mode to ‘free’ and rate to 3. Lastly, turn on the Chorus II effect for the signature Juno chorus sound.
- Reality in Motion Dry Synth 00:00
For effects, Parker’s main philosophy is to run his signal chain backwards of conventional logic, so reverb before distortion and compression. For the recreation, all effects are Ableton’s native audio effects, and I used:
Compressor: this is pretty gentle, and is to even out the TAL U-NO-LX output.
Reverb: size is at maximum and mix is at 46%, for a huge spacious sound. Placed before saturation and main compression.
Auto Filter: this is just taking off the harsh high-end of patch.
Overdrive: first part of saturation, very light with drive and mix only at 10%.
Saturation: second part of saturation.
EQ: this time gently rolling off the low-end added by the overdrive and saturator.
Compressor: Much more aggressive, and squashing the synth and reverb together.
- Reality in Motion Synth Effects 00:00
The thin pad that plays during the bridge at the 1:57 mark has much less modulation and processing than the previous brass part. It can easily be patched in TAL U-NO-LX using a single sawtooth oscillator with a resonant filter. Set the filter’s frequency at 1, resonance at 4 and envelope modulation at 5. Set the VCA mode to ENV and raise release time to 6, which will create a smooth fade-out when you release the keys. Raising the HPF will also help to keep the pad sounding nice and light. Turn on chorus II and add plenty of reverb to the track.
- Reality in Motion Thin Pad 00:00
The next sound is the vibrato CS-80-style brass, that plays at the 2:13 mark. For this patch, use the default sawtooth & sub osc settings, adding a wide vibrato by raising the LFO fader to 2. Set VCF frequency to 0, resonance to 3, and envelope to 7. Change VCA mode to ENV, and for the envelope, raise attack to 7 and release to 5. Turn on chorus II and put the LFO into free mode to finish the patch.
- Reality in Motion Brass 00:00
There are a few background synth parts that play during the chorus of Reality in Motion, they get buried in the mix behind the vocals but you can pick them out. The main three are a square wave lead melody, a descending strings line, and some harpsichord-style plucks. All three patches have been remade in TAL U-NO-LX and are available in the download at the end of the article.
- Reality in Motion Chorus Square 00:00
- Reality in Motion Chorus String 00:00
Drums are again from PastToFuture sample packs, with all the guitar tracks in the recreation coming from my Les Paul plugged into a Kemper Profiler amp, with either the onboard effects for overdrive, a Death By Audio Echo Dream 2 for fuzz or a Boss CE-1 for chorus. The production has lots of stereo width that I used Ozone Imager to create.
Yes I'm Changing
I covered some of the sounds in Yes I’m Changing in my old Tame Impala articles, but here I’ll outline where almost all of the sounds come from. Although the Roland Juno was used heavily on Currents (almost all the sounds on the previously covered tracks), another important synth for the Currents sound is the Roland JV-1080, a digital rack-mounted synth that used samples to create a diverse range of sounds. As well as the strings in Nangs, it also provided the main sound in Gossip, which I covered in this article.
These sounds are tough to recreate in other synths but can be found as presets in the JV-1080 hardware as well as in the JV-1080 software plugin in Roland Cloud. I’ve also have a pack of JV-1080 sounds available which works in various DAWs.
To program the main synth pad in Yes I’m Changing, lower the sub-oscillator volume to 2 and raise the HPF fader to 2; this will reduce the amount of low-end in the patch. In the VCF section, lower the cutoff frequency to 1.5 and resonance to 2, which will also remove almost all the high end. Change the VCA mode to envelope (ENV) and raise the ADSR’s release time to 4, which will add some decay when you release the keys. After that, process the track with delay and stereo widening to give it some space.
- Yes I'm Changing Pad 00:00
At some parts of the song, a choir sound comes in and doubles the chords – this is the Jet Pad choir sound that is used all over Currents such as on Past Life and List of People. The patch a preset found on the JV-1080 called PR-C: 075: Jet Pad 1, and is also included in my JV sample pack. The patch uses samples of voices with some lush digital effects such as a phaser.
- Yes I'm Changing Choir 00:00
To recreate the DX7-like bells that double that chords at 0:41 I used the JV-1080 patch PR-A: 030: JV Rhodes+. The JV-1080 has plenty of nice DX keys patches, and this one sounds the closest. Other DX7-inspired plugins also have similar sounds as presets.
The church organ lead sound that plays at 2:05 is also from the JV-1080, this time it’s the patch PR-A: 060: Cathedral, and the patch uses organ samples as an oscillator source. The sound appears on Yes I’m Changing quite dry, with little effects or manipulation.
- Yes I'm Changing Rhodes 00:00
- Yes I'm Changing Organ 00:00
For the last section of Yes I’m Changing, the song takes a change and the airy pad is replaced with a stronger, brassier synth sound. This can be created in TAL U-NO-LX by taking the previous pad sound and opening the filter and adding envelope modulation. Raise the cutoff frequency and envelope faders to 5 and resonance to 4. In the ADSR section set attack to 3, decay to 7.5, sustain to 0 and release to 4.
- Yes I'm Changing Brassy 00:00
The outro section also features JV-1080 patches playing guitar and bell sounds. I’m not 100% sure which patches were used on the original song, but for my recreation, I used the PR-A: 113: 12str Gtr 2 patch for the harpsichord-like melody and layered the Jet Pad sound with a modified version of the Ambience Vibe patch from the JV pack.
- Yes I'm Changing Guitar 00:00
- Yes I'm Changing Bell 00:00
To recreate the mix, all the synths tracks were grouped and run through sidechain compression sidechained to the kick drum to create the bouncing feel. The bass guitar is the Fender P-Bass, and I found that playing fingerstyle helped recreate the deep bass tone of the track. Most importantly, the traffic noises were sourced from Freesound, and can be found here: http://www.freesound.org/people/klankbeeld/.
Full disclaimer, I used the Roland Cloud JV-1080 plugin for the video but not the audio. I originally put together the video with clips of the hardware JV-1080 and screenshots from the Ableton JV pack, but without the on-screen keyboard interface it was pretty boring to watch. With the Cloud plugin you can follow the chords and melodies being played, and to my ears it sounds the same as the hardware (they use the same samples).