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King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard: A year-long retrospective

A look back at how King Gizz pulled off the unthinkable. 

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Cassie Stevens

With the release of Gumboot Soup on Dec 31st, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard came good on their promise of five albums in 2017.

Not since the days of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Frank Zappa has a band released albums as prolifically as King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard. Indeed, the last bands of note to release anything close to five albums in a year were The Brian Jonestown Massacre with three albums in 1996 and Green Day with their ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tré! trilogy in the fall of 2012. (No, Buckethead doesn’t count).

That the band has produced such a diverse range of studio albums, yet still maintained the high quality we’ve come to expect, speaks volumes.  So how did the psych rockers’ unprecedented 2017 studio efforts stack up?

Flying Microtonal Banana

Released: 24 Feb 2017

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The concept of recording an album in quarter-tone tuning (alluded to in the title and previous release Nonagon Infinity) is admirable and ambitious to begin with. 

As a passing interest, the music is enjoyable enough without being ground-breaking. Of course, to the music nerds or guitarists out there, Flying Microtonal Banana probably sounds like pure bliss, but to us more simple folk, it can come across slightly overblown.  

Having said all that, there are enough interesting ideas to make it worthwhile listening. The complex drum rhythms that drive ‘Melting’ give the song a gloriously chaotic feel yet it never feels totally off-kilter.  The hazy, ‘Sleep Drifter’ hypnotically buries itself into your consciousness, with a classic King Gizz melody that will leave you humming away for hours.

But it is ‘Rattlesnake’ that sets the bar b. With a pulsating bassline and instantly catchy, chanted chorus, the song is simple enough on the surface yet much more complex if you delve deeper. The many layers of invention act as a precursor for the rest of the album, both in terms of ambition and overall feel.

Murder of the Universe

Released: 23 June 2017

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If you thought Flying Microtonal Banana was ambitious, Murder of the Universe pushes the envelope to almost excessive levels. A sort of sci-fi concept album split into three separate stories with spoken-word narration, it can be difficult to get your head around at times.

For the first two chapters, Leah Senior narrates with a fabulously, emotion-devoid style, mirroring NaturalReader’s “UK, Charles” text-to-speech application that narrates the third and final chapter.

The weird and wonderful world of King Gizz is on full display here. It is gory, inventive and it also rocks. Hard. Best listened to as a whole, most tracks clock in under two minutes, but individual highlights can still be found if paid close enough attention. 

These include Easter eggs like the riff from ‘People-Vultures’ (of Nonagon Infinity) appearing at the beginning of chapter two or the synths colouring the background of ‘Han-Tyumi, The Confused Cyborg’.

If concept albums or spoken-word isn’t your thing though, the music still has the catchy prog-rock riffs to make-up for the bizarre storyline, enough for a highly listenable album.

Sketches of Brunswick East

Released: 18 August 2017

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From the heavy to the funky, King Gizzard took a complete left turn with Sketches of Brunswick East.

Predominantly jazz-based (inspired by Miles Davis’, Sketches in Spain), Sketches of Brunswick East is KGATLW’s most interesting record of the year.

Performed as a collaboration with Alex Brettin of Mild High Club, the album combines both bands’ styles without sounding too convoluted. Mild High Club’s usual woozy, brooding brand of psychedelia is tempered by King Gizz’s structure and knack for writing catchy songs.

While there are many layers of invention to explore, neither band overstays its welcome on any one genre. Plus, it just sounds like the guys had fun recording it.

From the pastoral English folk of ‘Countdown’, the jazz-fusion of ‘Tezeta’, right down to the gloriously sundrenched, indie-rock/funk vibes of ‘The Spider And Me’, there seem to be boundless genre limits for Messrs’ King Gizz and Mild High Club. That they pull off each with aplomb adds another string to the bow of the septet’s already wide-reaching back catalogue.

Meanwhile, the central guitar theme of the title track permeates throughout the whole album, keeping it a concept album at heart.

Psych-jazz has never sounded so fun or accessible.

Polygondwanaland

Released: 17 November 2017

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Mystery initially surrounded King Gizz’s fourth album of the year. Appearing as a partial leak on YouTube (which was swiftly taken down) early rumours suggested Polygondwanaland would be the final album released in 2017.

Released entirely in the public domain, Polygondwanaland was issued as a free download on the band’s website, fans even encouraged to make bootleg copies of the album.

Less ambitious than their two previous efforts, Polygondwannaland is nonetheless an immersive listen and rewards patience.

Much like Flying Microtonal Banana, it is the expansive opener, ‘Crumbling Castle’ which sets the tone. Built around syncopated drum rhythms, clean guitar runs and bandleader, Stu Mackenzie’s signature, droning vocals, the song is a 10-minute slow-burner that gradually builds into a cacophonous, raucous climax.

From there, the rest of the album has a smoothness that is a far cry from the jagged edges of Murder of the Universe or Flying Microtonal Universe, each song seamlessly seeping into the next.

‘Inner Cell’ dissolves into the arpeggiated, '80s style synths of ‘Loyalty’, ramping up to a whir and buzz of guitar feedback that leads into the vocal harmonies of ‘Horology’.

Each song gradually builds in intensity, yet there is restraint, something not normally associated with a KGATLW release. That is until ‘The Fourth Colour’, appropriately closes the album with a classic King Gizz psych-rock jam.

Gumboot Soup

Released: 31 December 2017

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 Just when it looked like Stu Mackenzie and co wouldn’t reach their pre-set target of five albums in the year, out comes Gumboot Soup right at the buzzer.

Pre-empting the late release, Stu had earlier confirmed with Consequence of Sound that Gumboot Soup would be coming out “very, very, late in the year.” He then went on to hint at what we could expect.

“And for me, some of my favourite songs of the year are on the fifth record. It’s more song-oriented than album-oriented.”

Indeed, this is definitely the case with Gumboot Soup. With the first 4 albums, each was either a concept album or had a natural progression between songs. This gave them a great flow and overall connectivity but meant they were limited in individual scope, track by track.

Gumboot Soup, however, sounds like the band had more freedom in the studio with plenty of room for experimentation within each song.

Thus, gems are a-plenty. On the lighter notes, there is the indie-rock loveliness of ‘Barefoot Desert’ or the jazz-rock funkiness of ‘Muddy Water’. At the heavier end of the spectrum you have the Black Sabbath-esque guitar crunch of ‘The Great Chain of Being’ and the rapid-fire, machine-gun rock of ‘All is Known.’

While having more of a scattered feel overall, each song on Gumboot Soup is structurally solid. It also doesn’t hurt that almost every song is so damn catchy either, which is a nice summation of the year for the prolific band.

All of this proves that there are no weak King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard albums, simply good and better. What started out as an ambitious idea that could’ve derailed the band and compromised the quality of their output, has added to their continuing legend.

The level of invention reaches dizzying heights on Murder of the Universe is scaled back by Polygondwanaland only to return with a bit of everything on Gumboot Soup. Each album is commendable in its own, unique way. Overall the experiment was totally worth it and could take the band to new heights (if that’s even possible) in 2018.