Tame Impala are a psychedelic band from Australia, their sound has mostly consisted of guitar heavy 60s/70s-style rock, washed out with delay and phasers. However their most recent album 'Currents' features heavy use of synthesizers and electronic elements, continuing the electronic experimentation found on 'Lonerism'. Although there is a huge variety of interesting sounds on 'Currents', by far the most common are the lush chorused sounds of the Roland Juno-106. The 106 was released in 1984 and has a classic 80s sound, with an easy to program interface.
The key to the Juno sound is it's famous onboard stereo Chorus effect. A great software emulation of the Roland Juno is the TAL-U-NO-LX. There is also the free MZTK DCO-6 for Windows and u-he Diva which emulates the Juno and many more.
Some other synths used on 'Currents' include a Moog Sub Phatty and a Roland JV1080. For the Moog bass sound any Moog or emulation will get you close. The Roland JV1080 is a digital rack mounted unit that produces sound from onboard samples. This was likely the synth used to create 'Gossip', and you can hear some of the patches in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtlqSKfxaGo
"I fell in love with those naff '90s sounding keyboards. I've got a Roland JV1080 synth module that you can plug a midi keyboard into. An audiophile would think some of the patches are the cheapest, plasticky sounds. But for me they're so romantically nostalgic. Because they're sounds I remember from when I was growing up in the '90s. The sounds that remind of something I heard on the radio in the car."
Who can't help fall in love with this synth sound? This trick behind this patch is using an LFO to trigger the filter cutoff, which gives it the wobble factor. A very similar patch can be heard in the intro of 'Be Above It'. Experiment with the LFO speed and the Modulation amount to get it sounding just right, the Juno-106 LFO can't be MIDI synced so some tiny adjustments might be necessary to get it to work with your track, however it doesn't matter if it's not perfect.
If you listen closely to the original you can clearly hear how the bass element of the sound is unaffected by the modulated filter, so you want to set the filter's cutoff frequency high enough to not affect your bass notes.
I used TAL-U-NO-LX through Soundtoys Decapitator and Glue Compressor to make it sound a little fatter and ValhallaVintageVerb to add some space. The only thing I automated was the filter cutoff, but I'm sure there's a lot more automation and mixing tricks going on in Nangs.
The Juno-106 really makes this song for me, there's the patch that comes in during the breaks ("and I know I should be happier") and the patch that plays the melody during the outro. The former patch is a really simple square wave through classic Juno chorus, with a little LFO on the filter that comes in after a high delay time.
The trick to getting this to sound really nice is to use the range function. This changes the octave the keyboard plays but the Keyboard parameter on the filter stays the same, meaning you can move the range down to 16' and play an octave higher up the keyboard to get a richer, brighter sound.
Yes I'm Changing
This is a pretty simple patch, similar to the one on 'Eventually' but with less low-end and more reverb/delay, giving it a dreamier sound. There is some rhythmic movement in the track which sounds like it was created with sidechain compression to duck the sound in time with the drums. I used Glue Compressor in Live triggered by a kick drum routed to Sends Only. Every DAW will have its own way of doing sidechain compression.
The important part of this airy pad sound is not to overdo the bass elements of the patch, keep the sub mix low and raise the HPF to lower the volume of the lower notes. Here are my settings, and I used Soundtoys Echoboy and ValhallaVintageVerb for effects.
Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
The synth patch in this song is a Juno-106 set to sound similar to a transistor organ, and run through a phaser which is most likely the Electro-Harmonix Small Stone Phaser that Kevin Parker frequently uses for guitar.
For the synth sound I'm using Saw and Square with a little Sub, I've got the LPF all the way up and the HPF about half-way up to take some weight off the bass notes. For the phaser sound I'm using the Small Phazer effect in Amplitube 4 with the colour on high and the rate just above 9'clock. Remember to run Amplitube in stereo and turn off all the amp and cabinet sections so you just get the pedal effect.
Some other Small Stone software emulations are the Stoned Phaser in Guitar Rig 5, Big Rock by ArtsAcoustic and Soundtoys PhaseMistress 'Classic 7' style gets pretty close to the Small Stone sound. EHX Small Stones can be picked up pretty cheap on eBay and are definitely worth the investment, the pedal has a lot more noise and charm than the software versions.
The main synth used in Past Life is... you guessed it, the Roland Juno-106. This is a simple patch that makes use of the PWM function on the square wave, and the trick to these sounds is finding the sweet spot for the PWM amount. For me, that meant pushing it pretty high but not too high that the square wave gets lost behind the saw wave. Turn off the sub oscillator and use the envelope with a long decay on the filter.
After the first chorus, this Juno synth line is doubled by what sounds like a DX7 patch and some classic Tame Impala phasing. I got reasonably close with the Native Instruments FM8 preset Electric Harp and used Soundtoys PhaseMistress on a group containing all the synths.
New Person, Same Old Mistakes
The bass synth that forms that backbone of this song was most likely the Moog Sub Phatty, which has the classic Moog bass sound. I used my Moog Sub 37 and got the patch sounding right pretty easily; the important things are to set the filter envelope to trigger on every note, and get the envelope amount and ADSR settings right to how you want it to sound. I set the oscillators so that OSC1 and the SUB oscillator would be on 16' and a lower volume OSC2 set to 8' adding a little brightness. Here are the settings I used:
For the harpsichord-esque line that comes in during the intro, I again used the Juno-106 and programmed a similar patch to the earlier one from 'Past Life', this time with only the square wave with a much shorter decay time and the PWM knob maxed out. I ran the 106 through Decapitator to brighten up the sound and ValhallaVintageVerb to add some space.
Download & Conclusion
“The first one I got was a Sequential Circuits Pro One. There’s a lot of that on the album,” said Parker. “I fell in love with it from the first moment I pressed down a key, and it pretty much kicked off my love of synths. Then I got a Roland Juno 106 and one of those Radioshack synths. I just love the way they have this completely different origin of sound to something like a guitar. After all the effects and everything they can both end up in the same place, but the way the sound is produced makes you think a bit differently about how you’re going to play these chords, this melody, or whatever. They have this laser beam kind of sound that makes me want to cry every time I hear a chord played.”
For the TAL U-NO-LX patches, you can download them here. There are also 2 patches for 'Eventually' even though the example above I used my Juno-106. Have fun with these patches and I encourage you to play around with them and come up with your own sounds.
That's about all for this article, as you can see the sounds are all pretty basic but as long as you know your gear and are willing to be patient in finding the sweet spot for certain settings you can get some really great sounds. Keep experimenting and if there's enough interest I may do a part 2 in the future!
(update: check out Part 2 here!)