King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard:
The Music, Magic and Mind-Fu*k
IT is hard to think of a lazier band out there…
PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Wdziekonski
than King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard! It is amazing to think that, this year, they will only release FIVE albums! I jest, naturally, but that is a thing that amazes me about the Australian band: they seem to have no facility for fatigue. There are bands/artists that take five years between albums: the fact the Melbourne seven-piece are planning five albums this year speaks volumes! I get annoyed when artists take time away and spend far too long formulating records. I shall not name anyone specific but one need only look around the music world and you can see the chasm acts leave before their next record...
I know every artist needs to tour but I am baffled it takes so many THAT long to bring out a new record! I wonder what they are up to in that time and whether they realise how much of a risk it can be – leaving a gap that long risks many finding other musicians who are more prolific. The thing about King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard is their sheer zeal and inventiveness. Each album sounds different to the last and they are never keen to repeat themselves and stick to the same format. Whether they are talking about mystical beasts and overlords; the changes in the world or something less substantial – the boys never disappoint and always bring something weird and wonderful to the party.
Their current album – and third of this year, so far – is Sketches of Brunswick East and alludes to Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain and the Melbourne district of Brunswick East. The record explores Jazz more and is one of the more listenable and accessible records of the band’s career. It flows and melts together wonderfully – the record is a collaboration between the Melbourne crew and Mild High Club. Alex Brettin, the sole member of the band, stayed at Stu Mackenzie’s house (Mackenzie is the lead of King Gizzard') and the two came up with vague ideas for songs. They recorded drafts on iPhones and, in time, the music started to form and mutate.
ILLUSTRATION CREDIT: Berat Pekmezci
I listen to the album and it sounds unlike anything King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard have ever created! The record explores Jazz and experimental avenues but is never restrained and limited. Critics have afforded the album passionate reception (it was only released on Friday) and noting the changes from Murder of the Universe and Flying Microtonal Banana – both released this year. The reason I wanted to feature King Gizzard' is because of their prolific and exhaustive work ethic; the way they change their dynamic each album – and the way they push music forward without many people noticing.
IN THIS PHOTO: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard with Mild High Club/PHOTO CREDIT: WDZIEKONSKI
Relatively few have heard of the band outside of Australia (there is building reputation but they are still under-the-radar) but that will all change. Whether it is working with unusual turnings or creating a Prog-Rock odyssey – the guys are among the most unusual and inspiring groups around. The record, Murder of the Universe, works in three different stages. According to Wikipedia – thanks to them for summarising – this is what it is all about:
“The first, The Tale of the Altered Beast explores themes of temptation, and tells a tale of a human who stumbles upon a mystical human/beast hybrid, dubbed the Altered Beast. The story starts from the perspective of the human being pursued, who slowly takes interest in the idea of being altered – as it is considered taboo in their society. The perspective then changes to the Altered Beast's itself, who is filled with murderous intent to kill. The human encountered by the beast slowly gives into temptation into becoming altered once the beast confronts them, as they crave power. Accepting of their fate, the beast and human merge, creating a newly altered beast, who now craves even more for flesh. However, the beast suffers greatly from absorbing another conscience – it loses track of its identity and eventually dies of insanity, decaying into the earth.
The second story, The Lord of Lightning Vs. Balrog is more focused on a big battle between two entities dubbed The Lord of Lightning and Balrog respectively, who represent the force of light vs darkness. The chapter starts with a foreword from the perspective of a storyteller, who recalls a battle between these two great forces. This story begins from "The Lord of Lightning", which is about the general destruction caused in a town by lightning fired from the entity's finger. He is perceived as evil and malevolent by the townfolk. However, he fires lightning at a corpse, who is somehow reanimated into the creature known as Balrog. This creature chooses to ignore the Lord of Lightning, and instead wreaks further havoc to the townspeople. However, the Lord chooses to fight the Balrog and confronts him – eventually the Balrog is left as a burning corpse. The Lord of Lightning then immediately leaves, choosing not to harm the townsfolk anymore.
The third and final story, Han-Tyumi & The Murder of the Universe, is about a cyborg in a digital world who gains consciousness and through confusion decides he strives only for what a cyborg cannot do – these being vomiting and death. He decides to create a creature dubbed the "Soy-Protein Munt Machine" whose only purpose is to vomit. As the creature rejects his love, Han-Tyumi decides to merge with the machine, which spirals the machine out of control. This machine then explodes and infinitely expels vomit, which eventually engulfs the entire universe, hence the title of the album”.
Mackenzie explained the album was the most narrative-driven thing they have created and its sheer scope/ambition could have sunk a lesser band. Flying Microtonal Banana, released in February, is where they played with microtonal tunings and bizarre aesthetic – altering instruments and sounds to give the album is alluring and unique sound. It is a different animal to Murder of the Universe. If that album is an apocalyptic and epic drama then Flying’ is a more restrained, if more complex, album. The band’s use of non-Western tunings and custom-made instruments showed how much they were dedicated to the project.
Each band member was armed with $200 and bought instruments from that cash – tuning and modifying them so they could bring something different to the album. Many assumed, when the album was released, they would not top it! The songs on Flying’ fuse East-meets-West with layered Psychedelia and Rock blasts. If that was the only thing they were releasing this year then they’d get huge kudos. Few artists can match the same intelligence and originality of the record; the quality is immense and it is a tight and stunning creation. I cannot resist the chants and addictiveness of Rattlesnake – it is a song I need to play on-repeat and amazes me with its irresistible chorus and incredible composition. You get chugging guitars and twanging bass; vision of hissing snakes and distorted vocals – a song that urges the listener to swing their head and move their feet (the sort of song best enjoyed when off your head or gripped by cannabis).
That is everything the band has released this year: I believe there are another two albums arriving but unsure what form they will take. Last year - and their finest album, perhaps - we saw Nonagan Infinity which is, essentially, an infinite loop. Every song flows into the next – that includes the opening and closing track...the record never ends and it sounds like you are listening to a single song...one that never stops! Director Edgar Wright has listed it among his favourite albums and critics responded in force. AllMusic assessed it in these terms:
“It's way more blown-out and weird than that, but you can hear a lot of late-'70s no-frills metal in the sound. The rest of the record is a little more varied, with moments of calm proggy respite, jazz-rock dreaminess, and blown-out psych-pop to balanced the frantic, sustained attack. The way the album is put together is an impressive feat, but almost beside the point since each song within the loop is worthy of standing alone. King Gizzard's inventive sound, giant hooks, and hard-as-titanium playing make Nonagon Infinity not only their best album yet, but maybe the best psych-metal-jazz-prog album ever.
2015’s Paper Mâché Dream Balloon was recorded using acoustic instruments and sounds foreign when compared to King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s modern albums. It shows, when you listen to the album, the boys sound as assured and confident (as any other record they have laid down). It is another bold step and could have been a gamble – for a band who are known for their oddity and thrills. MusicOMH gave this opinion on the record:
“What you actually had there, however, was a bit of a gem. The seventh album in their relatively short career, Paper Mâché Dream Balloon sees these Melbourne-based neo-psychedelicists eschew the motorik churn of 2014’s I’m In Your Mind Fuzz or this year’s Quarters, trading fuzzed-out whorls for a more pastoral, mellow style – earlier explored (at length) on the jazzy The River, the first of Quarters’ four 10-minute sojourns.
Gone too is the deliberately thin, straight-to-tape sound of their previous output, perhaps despite – according to lead vocalist/guitarist and flautist Stu Mackenzie – the album having been recorded in an empty shipping container on his parents’ farm in Victoria.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Wdziekonski
There was a strict no electric instruments rule in the sessions, but rather than woody strum, there’s plenty of colour and tone from the off, thanks to the variety of other instruments in the seven-piece’s armoury: Sense’s opening minor sevenths give way to serene, serpentine clarinet, while Bone and Dirt are buoyed by wheedling flute.
Rather like the excellent album-and-a-half recorded by XTC in their The Dukes Of Stratosphear guise (or perhaps The Young Ones tie-in Neil’s Heavy Concept Album), there’s a reverent irreverence to the pop-psych pastiches here. Our ardent crate-digger could happily while away the short running time collecting references: the whimsical title-track and Cold Cadaver let in hints of Traffic’s Hole In My Shoe and Paper Sun, there’s Canned Heat under The Bitter Boogie (with a brilliant slackening-string lead guitar) and a touch of the gleefully wrong intervals of Cardiacs on the circular Time Fate.
But the songs are a little more than insubstantial homages. Sense decries the senselessness of la vie moderne, while there’s a playful menace to Trapdoor’s roiling paranoia (“Everybody knows what’s under the door, And everybody goes to great lengths for sure, To hide themselves away”)”.
PHOTO CREDIT: Lee Vincent Grubb
I shall not go into THAT much detail about their remaining albums but look at their back-catalogue and we can see the differences and inventions on each. Quarters! (2015) has four songs that each run for ten-minutes-ten-seconds – each is a quarter of the album. It draws upon Jazz-Fusion and is a more laid-back thing. It is something to get your head bobbing to - perhaps, not something you can see going down well in the mosh-pit. The band’s second album, Eyes Like the Sky, is a cult-Western-like-audio-experiment that is narrated and written by Broderick Smith – it tells stories of outlaws, child soldiers and the frontier. It embraces the old Western films and some evil guitars (that is what Stu Mackenzie reckoned, anyway!). 2012’s 12 Bar Bruise was the debut and was not a conventional introduction.
IN THIS PHOTO: The album cover for 12 Bar Bruise
It was self-recorded by the band and several tracks were subject to unconventional record methods. The title-track was recorded through four iPhones – placed around the room – whilst Mackenzie sang into one of them. The fact the band has released eleven albums in five years means they are one of the most reliable and hard-working in all of music. I cannot think of anyone else that has managed to bring that much music out in all that time. Each album they release is different and relies on a different theme/concept. They have played with tunings and track length; the nature of music itself and how they record the songs themselves.
IN THIS PHOTO: Stu Mackenzie/PHOTO CREDIT: Kimberley Ross
Before I end; I wanted to bring in a few snippets from an interview Stu Mackenzie conducted with New Noise Magazine. He was chatting about the album, Flying Microtonal Banana, and looking ahead at the albums to come:
“Flying Microtonal Banana features the modified electric guitars, basses, keyboards, and harmonica, as well as a Turkish horn called a zurna. “I think there was definitely a challenge,” Mackenzie says, “picking up the Flying Microtonal Banana for the first time and just being so gobsmacked and not knowing what to do. I’ve played guitar most of my life, and then, picking up this instrument and not knowing what to do with it—it was quite confusing.”
IN THIS PHOTO: The boys tear up The Crows Nest, Glastonbury
Initially, using the new instruments was a lot harder, which made the creative process move a lot slower, but once everyone got the hang of it, it really opened up the realm of possibility.
The band have already started playing some of these songs live, and the response has been good. “We’ve played a couple so far, and we plan to play all of them out on tour,” Mackenzie says. “We’re going to take all of the modified guitars out with us on the next few tours and maybe beyond. Maybe we’ll make more music with these guitars. I’m not sure.”
IN THIS PHOTO: A shot from Paradiso, Amsterdam
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard kicked off their U.S. tour in March and are playing dates across the Northeast, Midwest and West Coast, capping off the tour at Coachella at the end of April. “We’re touring a lot this year as well, so we’ll see what we can do,” Mackenzie says about the prospect of three or more records this year. “We kind of have been making two records a year for a few years in a row. Last year, we just put out one, which just seemed a bit weird, so maybe we were overcompensating this year by saying we were going to do so many.”
Not a huge amount has changed in terms of King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s bond and commitment to music. Stu Mackenzie has assumed the writing command – a few albums have co-writes but he is their creative lead – and each record tackles new ground and reveals fresh discovery. I wanted to feature the Melbourne band for a few reasons. They have managed to create a raft of exceptional record but, more importantly, showed bands you can break ground and push limits. Rather than take years to release some average album – there are a couple of big acts who have done that this year! – they have produced high-quality records quickly. Each L.P. has a niche and U.S.P. Maybe the fact they have seven members means they can bust through material and recording quicker but I think the sheer size of the band creates potential banana skins. It is quite clunky and, having that many voices, means disagreements can come up – getting all the players in the same room to record an album is a logistical nightmare. Maybe that will be their next record: a series of songs recorded via Skype?!
IN THIS PHOTO: The band on the William Green Stage, Glastonbury
The boys are in audacious form and there are no visible cracks in the band’s armour. Considering they have been performing together since 2010 means, if they had found flaws with one another, that would have happened by now! The guys are almost like brothers. They have an insane connection and seemingly endless possibilities! I cannot wait to see how their next two albums shape up – due this year, remember – and whether their insane work-rate continues into next year! Mackenzie stated the band are over-compensating a bit this year but they feel the need to put that much material out shows they are hungry and determined. Get into the mindset of (the tremendous) King Gizzard & The Wizard Lizard and you are stepping into a land…
WHERE rattlesnakes, The Lord of Lightning and a Flying Microtonal Banana lurks!