King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s Workaholic Ethos

“My body’s overworked
It’s just the same I know
When can my body work
Cold static overload?
My body works, I know
It’s just the same, I know
My only difference
Is robot influence”

 

The chorus off of “Robot Stop” from 2016’s Nonagon Infinity is a prophetic statement for 2017. With the band releasing two new songs off of their fifth album this year on Wednesday, the Melbourne based King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is at the tail end of a whirlwind year. Touring across Australia, New Zealand, the U.S (twice) [if you want to see K-UTE’s Jackson Card’s review of their SLC show, check it out here.], and Europe the band has not only focused on tours but recording five different albums and ending the year with a touring music festival across Australia, “Gizzfest.”

A band with this kind of ethos is almost unheard of in 2017.KGATLW have proven that they can deal with a heavy workload and deliver quality music, concerts, and collaborations. What started as a seven member garage rock band from Geelong, Victoria in Australia, KGATLW consistently delivers new albums with new sounds, and 2017 was the band proving themselves to the world.

 

Starting with Flying Microtonal Banana in February, the band introduced a western audience to 24 TET tuning (For the non-musically inclined, these are notes in between notes in western music) which is commonly used in Arabic music. Fusing Psych rock, Krautrock, and Turkish folk music, the band created a sound that has not been seen in western popular music since The Beatles. The album had two singles that got considerable airplay in Australia and some U.S stations, “Rattlesnake” and “Billabong Valley”, the latter being a contemporary Bush Ballad that tells the story of Bushranger Dan “Mad Dog” Morgan.

In June the band released Murder of the Universe, an album that told three different stories through the band’s signature psych/kraut/garage sound. The album was even nominated for the ARIA’s (Australia’s RIAA) “Best Hard Rock Album” of 2017. Featuring Leah Senior’s narration for the first two stories on the album, the band resorted to using a text-to-speech application to narrate the final story. The album did not have any songs that got considerable airplay due to the length of each story, however it is the first time since “Eyes Like the Sky” that KGATLW has used spoken word to guide the structure of the album.

In August the band released Sketches of Brunswick East, a collaboration with U.S based jazz fusion group “Mild High Club.” The album mixes some concepts from “Flying Microtonal Banana” with a looser, improvisational feel ushered by Mild High Club’s involvement. This is some of the most improvisational content that the band has put out and their first foray into jazz. Citing Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain” as inspiration for the album name and jazz influence, the band delivers a newer sound that has not been heard in their discography. The album’s big single “Countdown” received heavy airplay in Australia. Again the band shows that they can metamorphose their sound and surprise their audience with new concepts they’ve never explored.

In November the band rolled out with Polygondwanaland. An album that is as fun to listen to as it is to pronounce. Building on the themes explored in “I’m In Your Mind Fuzz” and “Nonagon Infinity,” the band produces an album that uses more synthesizer than any of the band’s previous work. The big takeaway from this album however is the band released it entirely for free. The masters and artwork were given to the public for free. The band is stated as saying, “Ever wanted to start your own record label? GO for it! Employ your mates, press wax, pack boxes. We do not own this record. You do. Go forth, share, enjoy.” The band again explores a new concept never seen with their work. The fanbase has already began publishing Polygondwanaland among different labels, creating special editions of the album that are unique to each label. KGATLW shows that there’s always something new up their sleeve. If you want to read more about Polygondwanaland, check out our very own Jackson Card’s review of the album here.

What’s going to be on the fifth album? The band released two singles on Wednesday (You can listen to them below), “Beginners Luck” and “All is Known.” Both singles show an amalgamation of their musical work in 2017. With “Beginners Luck” borrowing the softer sound of “Sketches of Brunswick East” and Beginners Luck taking sounds off “Flying Microtonal Banana” and “Murder of the Universe.” Does this mean the band’s fifth album will be the capstone of their work in 2017? If these singles indicate anything, the answer is yes.

 

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard has delivered in 2017, they have come of age. Stu Mackenzie is now Kevin Parker’s biggest threat in terms of the Australian rock scene. In the time that Tame Impala has been quiet,KGATLW has come in and taken the crown from them. KGATLW has become the ruler of the late 2010s in the way that Tame Impala was in the early 2010s. The work they’ve done in 2017 has shown that rock is not dead. The show of pure passion for their content shows off with the band’s fanbase, and by giving their fans Polygondwanaland they’ve developed a new brand of marketing that is so brave in a world where music does not make a living.KGATLW is a force to be reckoned with. Time will show that their efforts are not fruitless and their work ethos in 2017 has sealed them as an influential band of the 2010s.

 

 

The Possibilities of Music

Some bands simply love playing music and don’t care about anything else. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is one of those bands. These Aussies are straight-up music-holics. Since their formation in 2010, they have released 11 full-length studio albums that span a variety of genres. Their music is described as psychedelic or progressive rock but is influenced by folk, jazz, and heavy-metal to name a few. Songs incorporate themes and ideas from these extremely different styles pushing the boundaries of music.

I saw them at Metro Music Hall accompanied by Ice Balloons and Tropical Fuck Storm. Ice Balloons did not impress me. They sounded muffled and messy. However, they did leave a lasting impression for one particular reason, their lead singer wore a fly’s head mask. Uniqueness aside, I was not a fan of their music.  Tropical Fuck Storm was less memorable but seemed more put together as a band.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard consists of a herd of members and more instruments than I could count. Their distinct sound is attributed to multiple guitars, synthesizers, harmonicas, a flute, driving bass lines, and two dueling drums. Drummers Eric Moore and Michael Cavanaugh are smack-dab in the middle of the stage battling the entire night. They are the heart and soul of the band whose songs constantly change tempo.

Mixing music genres is not the only way King Gizzard revolutionizes music. For their album, Flying Microtonal Banana, guitarist Stu Mackenzie, Cook Craig, and Joey Walker “modded” guitars adding additional frets.This allowed them to access microtones, semitones, and additional notes impossible on a traditional western guitar. Lead singer Mackenzie had the idea after messing around on a Turkish stringed instrument called a baglama. The result is an easter sounding electric guitar. Creating their own instruments adds to their odd unique sound.

The Melbourne musicians put everything into their performance. They are incredibly energetic and the crowd matches their energy. In all my years going to concerts, I have never seen a wilder crowd. My shoes were completely destroyed in the madness. During the slower parts of songs, concertgoers sway and headbang. When the music gets faster and heavier, mosh pits form in the blink of an eye. The crowd is tightly packed, but the proximity doesn’t stop people from dancing.

King Gizzard’s albums have related songs that blend together and are often broken into multiple parts. Their setlist is programmed in the same manner. They play multiple songs in order or slightly jumbled so that they playing music for 20 or 30 minutes with no breaks. The reoccurrence of melodies and specific lyrics makes you question whether you are still listening to the same song as half an hour ago.

By the time Mackenzie announces their last song, the audience and musicians are beat. They summon enough energy to play a 15-minute version of “Am I In Heaven?”. The crowd cheers for 10 minutes but they don’t get an encore today. After almost 2 hours of constant music, there is nothing left in the tank.

Music truly is limitless. There are innumerable possibilities to be explored and as a society, we have only scratched the surface. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is a band that is pushing the limits of traditional music both in the studio and on the stage.

Get What You Want – Red Dog Revival

The first thing to notice about this album is that it sounds like it was recorded during a performance rather than a studio. Through the endless progression of different guitar riffs and instrumental breakdowns, there is a consistent energy that keeps your attention. It has a minimalistic vigor that isn’t dumbed down by over equalizing the treble but then has a high enough production quality that makes it as easy to listen to as any record. The two opening tracks, “Call up the Devil” and “Get What you Want” provide an open welcome that immediately introduces intricate jams and a high level of instrument technicality that can only rightly be called progressive rock.

The same two tracks also introduce the records theme of songs blending into each other. It’s a gimmick that I frankly think bands could use a lot more and it’s pleasing to see Red Dog Revival do it so well here. They don’t implement it in every track transition but they do it enough to remain aesthetically fulfilling. “So Hard” and “Crazy” keep up the psychedelic blues with more guitar licks and loud snare pops. They keep the album driving with same upward velocity that made everyone fall in love with those early 70s concept albums. However, “Crazy” has such a drive and backbeat that it starts to prematurely edge into hardcore music before it digresses and returns to blues the pattern it began from. The album knows what its initial progressive goal is but that doesn’t stop it from laying a few surprises in the tracklist.

The most surprising track by far is “Burn On.” Coming out of a Deep Purple blues orientation, the track slips a ska influence that, though is a bit out of place, feels right at home. It doesn’t let down on the same consistent energy the record has been pushing and it gives it a curve that pulls the other tracks from the initial goal and into something that feels fresh as well as nostalgic. “When Love Becomes War” becomes the best song on the release when this final track arrives. You realize that the entire record is vitalized here and that it is where everything comes together. Not only are the melodies executed so well, but also, the four-minute outro for the track allows the band to flex their muscles and really show off. The riffs here are as nasty as they are complicated. Although it is the final track, it doesn’t let up quite yet and wants to finish strong. By the end of this record you realize a solid effort has been made and that progressive rock isn’t dead. Psychedelia and concept albums still have a lot more to say and still have room to say it.

New Misery – Cullen Omori

Coming off a Smith Westerns breakup, Cullen Omori has finally recuperated and has debuted his solo career. New Misery, in Omori’s own perspective, is a derivative of his former band’s track, “Varsity” that came off of their final album, Soft Will. He wanted to take a step back in his song writing processes, further away from a “prog rock” mentality, and into something of more casual chord progressions. Although the record does have a few psychedelic aspects – the opening track “No Big Deal” has similarities to acts like Tame Impala – it does take on a more minimalistic quality than the work he was formerly putting out. With lots of reverb and simple acoustic guitar strums, “Hey Girl” provides a contemporary outfit with easy going melodies and a chorus that isn’t anywhere the risk of going over the top. And that’s one of the great perks of this album: it sounds full with a lot of energy, but the more you listen the more you realize how little is going on in each track and the more you appreciate the efficient use of reverb.

One thing to remember about the Smith Westerns is that they started out as a lo-fi/diy act. However, as their career went on, they were able to eclipse both garage and psychedelic music it such a perfect and modern way. They reached an essence that was of a cheap garage band but at the same time fulfilling the presence of flourishing prog rock group of the early 70s. Omori pretty much does this exact thing in this new record. “And Yet the World Still Turns” sounds like it is composed of a stage full of musicians but really only has like, at most, four instruments on the track. It’s full, minimal and satisfying. And really, surprising. “Cinnamon,” the single of the record, gets a bit more complicated, but really only with its percussion. There are a few digital effects that coincide with the snare drum that give it a nice atmosphere comparable to current bands like Foals and The National. Omori chases the theme of this song with tribal rhythms and pre-choral chants.

Eventually the album arrives at a kind if ballad, “Synthetic Romance” that realizes that relationships are hard. “All of my life/I’m just trying to make it all turn out right” states how difficult to it is to make things last. Romances, love, bands, etc. Life gets complicated and sometimes you need to move on. Omori chooses to move on with this track with confused lyrics and his bold organ. Finishing up the record, as well as sharing its title, “New Misery” is a song about coming to terms with a current situation. It opens with a melancholy guitar and the words, “Is it enough to be happy.” Omori is obviously struggling with a problem that isn’t cut and dry. Is it ok to just be? Before even writing this record he wasn’t sure he wanted to be a musician. There was a lot from the Smith Westerns that put a bad taste in his mouth, like deadlines from labels and a band that was indifferent to their own music. With this concluding track Omori sums up his feelings and his career with his former band. It’s bitter but for the best. It took hard hits and put a lot of negative thoughts in his head but thankfully it didn’t ruin his love for music. With this debut solo release, Cullen Omori proves to that he’s still good at writing music, and to himself, proves that he still loves writing it.

 

Cullen Omori