Every once in a while, there comes a musical tour de force that is so outside what we’ve come to know and so sure in its vision that it demands you stop what you’re doing and tune in. They can last for decades or be a flash in the pan, but their music lives forever. We are fortunate enough to live in a time with Australia’s mind-shredding seven-piece King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard; led by the frenzied focus of electrifying front man Stu Mackenzie, their psychedelic/post-punk/krautrock/surf-jazz/folk/doom metal is unlike anything I’ve ever heard, and it’s turning heads all over the world. Allow me to tell you why you need to be paying attention to this band.
From their inception in 2011, King Gizzard was always going to be a different band. Three guitars, two drummers, keys and bass? Members performing on multiple instruments during a show? Filming concerts in 360-degree style and customizing microtoned instruments? Check, check, and check. The lineup consists of Stu Mackenzie (guitar, vocals, flute, zurna, keys), Ambrose Kenny-Smith (keys, harmonica, vocals, guitar), Cook Craig (guitar), Joey Walker (guitar, vocals), Lucas Skinner (bass), and Michael Cavanagh and Eric Moore on drums. While there may be seven heads, they clearly share the same brain, with a singular focus for delivering unconventional, spastic, hyperdrive rock n’ roll.
Not only do they stand out from the crowd in terms of the band lineup, but their output is almost unmatched in modern music; they’ve released ten LPs and two EPs since 2011, and they’ve already released two of their planned five albums in 2017. When you factor in that they’re busy touring around the world, pressing vinyl, and maintaining their own label, you wonder when they get time to sleep. That doesn’t seem to be much on their minds though, as their inhuman performances keep wowing fans from Australia to Europe to the US.
Now that we’ve discussed their prolific and idiosyncratic output, it’s time to address the music itself. Their early work (the EPs Anglesea and Willoughby’s Beach in addition to their first LP 12 Bar Bruise) is a mixture of high-octane surf rock and chunky, shimmering psychedelia with melodic punk elements thrown in, plus Stu’s unmistakable shrieking, distorted melodies. Their next LP, Eyes Like the Sky, is a narrated musical audiobook that tells a story of Apache warriors vs. American settlers set in 1864; a true spaghetti Western album if I’ve ever heard one.
From there, the band moved on to the more melodically-focused Float Along – Fill Your Lungs and the goofy, fuzzed-out Oddments. Both of these albums were less frenetic and more focused on taking the tunes in a new direction. While Float Along – Fill Your Lungs featured longer, stretched-out songs and expanded instrumentation like the sitar and elaborate compositions, Oddments is quite a bit sillier-feeling, with shorter songs and more of a vocal focus. Both are great albums for sunny drives or hanging out on the porch. Squishy, psychedelic prog-pop.
The experimentation didn’t stop there, as I’m In Your Mind Fuzz dabbled in continuing motifs, themes of mind control, and melting prog rock, all wrapped in an underlying drone that drifts away into some excellent slow jams. Next up, Quarters! is what would happen if The Doors existed in this day and age: loping acid rock with just a touch of jazz fusion, the album is only four songs long, but each track is 10:10 long, leaving plenty of room for the boys to develop an all-encompassing soundscape. From there, the acoustic, dripping-with-sunshine Paper Mache Dream Balloon surfaced as a "concept-less concept album". Featuring almost entirely acoustic instruments, flutes, clarinets, and light, airy tunes, it is accessible, yet distinctly Gizzard. Yet another musical voyage they conquered.
And now we have arrived at 2016, which saw the release of Nonagon Infinity. While technically nine different tracks, the album is meant to be listened to as one infinite loop of music, with the final track ending with the opening track riff, and no breaks between the individual songs. Melodies drift in and out of focus, repeat and reimagine themselves, and the album as a whole is a blistering piece of music that sounds like lightning trapped in a bottle, bouncing furiously, barely containing itself.
So here we are, in the current King Gizzard era. This year already they have released two albums, the first being February’s Flying Microtonal Banana. Having made custom instruments in microtones (the tones between half-steps, for which there is generally no written notation in Western music), the album is distinctly otherworldly, and sounds like a psychedelic punk rock snake charmer from outer space trying to save our world from inferior music. The song structures range from heavy and thick with distortion to slinky and chittering, all with a slight drone underneath, reigning in the more bombastic elements.
The second King Gizzard album this year so far is the earth-shattering Murder of the Universe. There is so much to talk about with this one, and you can read my full review of the album here: http://thepopbreak.com/2017/06/28/king-gizzard/. Divided into three separate chapters, it is a dizzying, towering, gargantuan album with themes of artificial intelligence, fantasy, universal destruction, and cosmic collapse. I’ve never heard anything like it, and it is impossible to stop listening to. Riff after riff emerges from the shadows only to compete with two simultaneous melodies and rhythms; the music itself seems to spiral out of control toward a thrilling conclusion. It’s a massive accomplishment and established King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard as standard bearers for the future of music. In addition, this is their second album to feature spoken word narration, as the first two chapters are told by label mate Leah Senior, while the third chapter narration is a robotic voice yearning for humanity.
Next up, they’ve announced their soon-to-be-released Sketches of Brunswick East. Modeled after the legendary Miles Davis album Sketches of Spain, it will be a jazz/improvisation-leaning album, lighter in tone and subject matter. The cover art and what appears to be the tracklist have leaked, and in a recent interview drummer/manager Eric Moore indicated the album would be out "hopefully very soon" and basically said they were going to quietly drop it whenever they felt like it. So be sure to keep your eyes and ears peeled, it’s going to be something else.
If you’re looking for something new and exhilarating, with a wide array of material to sink your teeth into, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard is for you. Their music is all over the place, and they show no signs of slowing down. They are taking the world by storm with their hurricane of ever-changing sound, never sticking to the conventional. I hope this has illuminated some aspects of why they are so popular, and I hope even more that you find some of their music that speaks to you the way it does to me. Happy listening folks!
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard are playing two shows at Lincoln Hall in Chicago, Sunday 9/24 and Monday, 9/25. The first is sold out, but there are still tickets available for Monday’s show here: http://www.lh-st.com/