Last year, in one of 2019’s more ‘how the hell did this happen?’ moments, psych oddballs King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard sold out London’s 10,000 capacity Alexandra Palace. Whereas Aussie psych-rock peers such as Tame Impala can pluck crowd-pleasers from their back pockets, bands as challenging and downright weird as The Gizz, who deal in space-rock wig-outs and 11-minute lysergic jams, don’t tend to lord it over arena-sized rooms.
Then again, the prolific septet have always done things their own way. Over 10 years and 15 experimental, kaleidoscopic studio albums, they’ve become the musical equivalent of a packet of Revels: a mixed bag of texture, genre and flavour that you can chew on for hours and you never quite know what you’re going to end up with. And they’ve never made the same album twice… well, until now.
As the world headed into lockdown in March, they began working on new music at their respective Melbourne homes. Piecing together their ideas remotely, they found themselves returning to the inspirations behind their 16th album masterstroke ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’, one of five records the band released in 2017; this one saw them customise their guitars to experiment with Middle Eastern scales. ‘K.G.’ revisits many of those ideas.
‘Automation’ is carried by the same hypnotic momentum as ‘Microtonal’s ‘Rattlesnake’, and bears a passing semblance to that album’s ‘Nuclear Fusion’, but the band have stripped down those elements and fashioned a scorching new banger built around a motorik riff and robotic vocals.
Similarly, ‘Minimum Brain Size’ and ‘Straws In The Wind’ sum up what Gizzard do so well, as they take complex concepts and transfiguring them into earworms. The former builds a flourishing riff around skittering drums and woozy vocals, while the latter is a Middle-Eastern-meets-country float that takes aim at how the mainstream media have stoked emotions during the Covid-19 pandemic: “Pandemonium/ Selfish pigs/ Headless chickens scared shitless / The media will never quit.” They’re great songs but don’t feel like they’re breaking new ground – a big deal with Gizzard. After all, this is a band who have spent a decade forging relentlessly forward, trying new things and chucking everything at the wall to see what sticks.
It’s an issue that repeats over and over. ‘OddLife’ and ‘Some Of Us’ are propulsive, freeform jams that see The Gizz cherry-pick base elements from their extensive back catalogue. Frazzled off-kilter rhythms? Check! Jazzy freak-folk polyrhythms? Gotcha! Deceptively anthemic refrains? Oh yes! On one hand, they feature all the elements that make King Gizzard great. On the other, it feels frustratingly static; these songs could slot effortlessly onto any of their albums to date.
Only ‘Intrasport’ is a true outlier here; an acid-dipped disco anthem flavoured with a Turkish zurna (a wind instrument) that absolutely bangs and proves there’s still plenty of creative gas in the tank. No doubt many of these songs will go on to be fan favourites, but while it’s not a step backwards, it certainly is a step sideways for a band who until now have been in perpetual motion.
Release date: November 20
Record label: KGLW via Caroline Records