Words by Andrew Fetter
Andrew Fetter has been writing about music for over the last decade and playing in bands for even longer. His latest endeavor is the radio hour, The Noise Kaleidoscope which airs Tuesdays from 4:30-5:30pm ET on 99.1FM WQRT in Indianapolis. On it he covers his personal collection and influences of psych rock from over the last half century, starting with early influences and reaching to it’s modern incarnations. Past episodes are archived online.
One of the most interesting, bizarre and creative bands in the psych rock world is Melbourne Australia’s King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard. They don’t seem intent on reinventing themselves with each album, but they end up doing it anyway. Their first handful of records are classic psych rock. Adding influences of metal and jazz, they come close to prog rock, but not in the pretentious way of being too “smart” of over your head.
My introduction to the band (and their most solid release thus far) was 2016’s Nonagon Infinity. It’s nine tracks that move from one to the next throughout with no breaks in between with the final beat of the album going seamlessly back to the start, creating an infinite loop. From the first listen I was obsessed with it. It was played constantly, multiple times. Because that’s the way you almost have to listen to an album that doesn’t really end, it just circles back around every time.
In 2017 they released five (yes, five) albums, a challenge the band put to themselves publicly. In February they released Flying Microtonal Banana – added to the official title was Explorations into Microtonal Tuning, Volume 1. Frontman Stu Mackenzie’s custom-built a bright yellow guitar with added frets resulting in quarter tone tuning, creating tones halfway between normal notes on a scale. It’s a style commonly associated with Middle Eastern music, which adds to the overall hypnotic vibe of the music. Murder of the Universe, a much heavier sounding concept album divided into 3 separate narratives, was released in June. Portions of each story contain spoken word segments that guide the story throughout. Each of the 3 parts (The Tale of the Altered Beast, The Lord of Lightning vs. Balrog, and Han-Tyumi & The Murder of the Universe) build on themes of fantasy and sci-fi, which again almost veer them into prog rock territory. Which is enhanced by the band’s increased use of synthesizers and abrupt time signature changes. August saw the release of Sketches of Brunswick East, a collaboration with Mild High Club. Admittedly this one is hard for me to digest. It’s heavily inspired by Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain (both in sound and title) and takes on a much more jazz influenced feel, borderlining on smooth jazz. The origins for this album date back a few years prior to the release with Mackenzie performing the song “Rolling Stoned” (later released on Sketches…) live with Mild High Club. There are elements that still clearly make this a King Gizzard record, but Mile High Club’s influence clearly take the band in direction fans may not have predicted. And, truth be told, one that I hope they don’t revisit. In November, they released Polygondwanaland, an album they released for free and in the public domain. Meaning fans could download the record and use it for whatever purpose they chose. They could listen to it, share it with their friends, make physical copies (not just burned, but print actual CDs and albums) and even start their own labels with the release, which many people actually did. Gumboot Soup finished off the year, quite literally as it was released on December 31st. While this album has no official concept per se and yet, it does have this lighter, almost pop feel that successfully brings the year to a close and earns them the right to take a breath, which they basically do for 2018.
After all of that, many fans (myself included) were waiting all year to see what they had up their sleeve next.
And 2019 has thus far not disappointed. Earlier in the year they gave us Fishing for Fishies, a significantly more bluesey album described by the band as “boogie rock”. I mean, try to imagine a King Gizzard album you can dance to. I won’t say I’ve done it, but I won’t say I haven’t either. It’s nowhere near the best album they’ve put out, but you could almost argue it’s the most (for lack of a better word) fun. And as an album it’s the best fit for their frequent use of the harmonica. What follows later in the year is Infest the Rats’ Nest. In about as sharp a contrast as you can get from Fishing For Fishies, this album sees King Gizzard diving into thrash metal territory. Lyrically the first half is centered around current events, particularly climate change. The second half takes them once again into the sci-fi narrative, but with ties to the modern concerns of the planet.
There are 3 more months left in the year, so we can’t rule out the possibility of yet another album. However, and there hasn’t been any official statement from the band and most likely hearing 5 albums in one year has most likely raised expectations for the band to release multiple albums per year, something that isn’t done by many bands. It’s quite possible that at some point they’ll run out of ideas used to screw with the heads of their fans. It seems unlikely, however.