An Arizona-Shaped Hole in the Lizard’s Shadow
Taking Risks and Pushing the Album in New Directions
THIS is a period where I am revisiting aspects and ideas...
PHOTO CREDIT: @suryavu
that I have included before. I am a big admirer of the album as an artform and think, even if you do not reinvent the structure and form of an album, you can create some big waves. By that, I mean you can add samples or make songs differ; have a range of genres working alongside one another in a bold and eclectic record. Think about how long the album has been around and, through the decades, how many artists have pushed the envelope and really done something unexpected?! We have had many classic albums, sure, but a lot of them are more conventional and straightforward. When The Beatles’ threw in a hidden track – Her Majesty – at the end of Abbey Road in 1969, that was quite a big step forward. They also had a song-cycle on the same album: tracks that flow into one another to create this single story. Abbey Road, in many ways, changed the game but even before The Beatles, artists were putting concepts and surprises in their music. I have used King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard as the sort of ‘cover stars’ as they have, through their career, taken the album in new directions. I know there are some that throw in these twists through an album or play with our preconceptions. Maybe these shifts and differences are quite slight but, with the Melbourne band, you get these vastly different and radical records.
Not only are the guys pretty prolific – they put out five albums in 2017 alone! – but they do like to see what they can do with an album’s structure and limited. Their 2015 release, Quarters!, contained just four songs, all of them running in at 10:10. Their music melts the mind and introduces myriad scenes of mystery and magic but, confined to four songs, many bands would fail to release something that justified the concept. Quarters! is a more laidback album that previous releases from King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard; taking in more Jazz and Acid-Rock moments. Paper Mâché Dream Balloon was released in 2015 too – the band never rest or slack off! – and it was recorded with acoustic instruments only. That might not sound extreme but, for a group with such range and imaginations, it forced them to write a different type of song; work without a safety net in many ways. The band would go on to release Flying Microtonal Banana: recorded in quarter-tone tuning, where an octave is divided into twenty-four equal-distanced quarter-tones. The band used instruments modified for microtonal tunings and, again, they stepped in a new direction. Many might say that King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard are a band who do not truly have a set sound so they do not have that commercial expectation – free to wander and do what they want regarding sound and content.
PHOTO CREDIT: @iamjohnhult/Unsplash
A few artists put out concept albums but I wonder whether too many are unimaginative when it comes to records. We get the ten/eleven/twelve tracks and, aside from a mix of genres, do we get anything that reinvents the musical wheel? Maybe, in a bit to remain focused and tackle the competition, artists need to remain fairly accessible and not take too many risks. It is not only King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard who are releasing this wonderful, weird and completely different albums all of the time. It is the 2016 album, Nonagon Infinity that defines King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard at their experimental and brilliant best. Their eighth album, released in 2016, is designed to be played in an infinite loop: the record can be played back-to-front-to-back-to-front and the sound will not break. Like The Beatles having a song suite where different tracks fuse into a flowing whole, this album creates this single listening experience where the end of the last song matches the start of the opening song so that, in effect, you can listen to the album forever and it would not break. Imagine one of the mainstream acts doing that and there would be some raised eyebrows! I love when artists do something bold like this. It would not have to be something weird and out-there but changing our perceptions of an album and what can be achieved is what we need more of in modern music.
IN THIS PHOTO: King Gizzard and The Wizard Lizard/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press
When King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard released their inventive album in 2016, critical reaction was impassioned. AllMusic had this to say:
“The energy level is mainly set to search and destroy throughout as the drums thunder, the lightning-fast guitars slash and burn, and the spacy vocals often break out into ecstatic shouts. The band has added some supercharged Sabbathy metal to its sound, and it works very well. The opening suite of songs punches fast and hard, like someone is slapping you repeatedly with a copy of a Saxon album. 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. That can be debated, but at the very least artists like the Flaming Lips, Ty Segall, and others who think they are doing something cool and weird should check it out and take a few notes”.
It might be mind-boggling having a blank page that you need to fill songs with, let alone turning things on their head and coming up with an original concept. I do wonder whether the album form is becoming a bit too predictable and limited and, as such, many people are choosing songs and handpicking what they like.
You can release an album where the songs are pretty conventional but still have a sense of ingenuity and fun. Whether it is a case of stopping an album at the half-way point and then creating something truly unique for the second section; following in the footsteps of artists like King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard and having these sense-altering and refreshing angles that are explored time and time again. Artists need not do something completely radical every time but once in a while, it would be good to see something that takes you by surprise. A bolder approach to form and narrative might also help get vinyl sales up, too. Maybe you only release an album on cassette or there are layers of sound that somehow reveal themselves after multiple listens; this would be suited to physical forms and, as such, we could see a resurgence in sales and interest. I like idea of releasing an album that would be suited to physical formats and manage to take them in new directions. Maybe there are these wonderful concepts and epiphanies that are yet to be realised because the album has not really taken many risks through the years. When we had concept albums in the 1960s and bands such as The Beatles took the alum to new realms…that was seen as radical and surprising.
PHOTO CREDIT: @davidclode/Unsplash
Now, in 2019, have we evolved the album itself or are we resigned to the fact that people want their music right now and are not too bothered when it comes to throwing in these strange techniques and concepts? I would like to think that, a) we still love the album and listen to all the songs and, b) there are artists out there not too concerned with following the herd; experimenting with sound, tunings and logic and, in the process, taking music to wonderful new places. In the case of the much-mentioned King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard, they keep shapeshifting and massaging the imagination. It would be good to see others follow them but, as I say, are we too worried by change and are artists too busy with the sound of songs – and making them distinct – to focus on the nucleus and spine; reshaping the album itself and challenging our perceptions. I’ll end things there but I do worry that music/albums have become too rigid and there is this sense of safety. There are so many directions we can take music and sound in so I do think that artists, once in a while, need to make that step. The experiment might fail but I applaud those who roll the dice and think of music in different ways. When the concept and experiment truly works then it not only stands out as different and original but it changes how we perceive…
PHOTO CREDIT: @nahlimusic/Unsplash
MUSIC and sound.