By Rory McArthur (@RoryMeep)
What can really be said about King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard at this point? After 11 (eleven) albums in 5 years, many will already be aware of their ridiculous work rate, their genre hopping tendencies, and their all round bat-shit craziness. It should come as no shock then, that the surprise released, jazz flavoured Sketches of Brunswick East adds even more variety to their bursting discography. A collaboration with Californian outfit Mild High Club, this latest work really is like nothing the band have recorded before, returning to the chilled out vibe of some previous releases, but putting a new, fresh spin on it.
Edgar Wright may have recently declared the septet a new favourite of his, but these 13 tracks would seem as out-of-place on the Baby Driver soundtrack as Jeremy Corbyn would at a fox hunt. Whereas the hectic energy of Nonagon Infinity would probably seem right at home blasting out of Ansel Elgort’s headphones during a car chase, SOBE feels more like the stoners sitting on the corner of the street, dismissing the action with a disinterested shrug.
The main inspiration for the album seems to have sprung from the everyday goings on in the titular Melbourne suburb – “our attempt to find beauty within a place that we spend so much time”, as main songwriter Stu Mackenzie puts it. These themes are pretty buried in the album though, with the personal touch of emotion you might expect from an album dedicated to your hometown pretty much absent. In classic King Gizzard style, the album is quite vague as far as lyrics go, with only a few mentions of decaying buildings and street names to remind us of the concept. Dogs bark and cicadas chirp in the background, but this music ultimately sounds more like it came from space than from Australia. Thankfully, this isn’t too much of an issue, as the album’s sunny disposition means it would still easily soundtrack a leisurely stroll down the street on a hot Melbourne afternoon, but some more straightforward storytelling may not have gone amiss, to really ground the tracks in Brunswick East.
As far as the instrumentation goes, there’s much more of an improvisational and experimental vibe than was maybe expected, with a surprising touch of darkness underpinning it all. To put it simply, it’s elevator music for weirdos. But what damn fine elevator music it is. From the blissful Countdown, to the sunny sway of The Spider and Me, all the way through to the demented, hypnotic groove of The Book, the record really is quite the achievement. Never before has a King Gizzard album felt quite so immersive, with each track digging you deeper into the hole until you’re surrounded on all sides by this odd, quirky jumble of sounds. Breaking this album into individual songs is almost pointless, with the real joy being found in listening to the whole thing, front to back, and just getting lost in it.
The expansive synth stylings of MHC’s Alex Brettin play a subtle role, providing a warm, lush basis for many tracks, from which the weird and wacky arise. In case you were worrying at all though, this is most definitely still a King Gizzard album. While Brettin’s influence is felt, and is for the most part extremely welcome, sonically, this remains grounded in the strange world of everyone’s favourite universe murderers. Han-Tyumi from the last record makes a cameo on Tezeta, Mackenzie is still popping up with the demonic vocals every now and again, and they’ve even dusted off the old flute for our listening pleasure! All the classic sounds are there, but the album also sees the emergence of a rather unexpected star. Lucas Skinner – the bassist who has never really taken centre stage before, bursts into the limelight, and stakes his claim for MVP. His recurring motif from the title tracks is nothing short of sublime, and his walking, popping work in Dawn to Dusk on Lygon Street isn’t far behind. In fact, his grooves are what allow the whole jazz experiment to really click into place. A lot of the instrumentation has a laid back, jammy quality, but Skinner’s swaggering style provides a much-needed anchor point to prevent it from ever getting too self-indulgent or aimless.
So there we have it, indisputable proof that King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard are not of this earth. When they first announced their audacious five albums in a year plan, it seemed impossible that they’d achieve that goal, let alone keep up a level of quality that would make the whole thing worthwhile. Yet here we are, three albums in, and not only has each record seen a deft leap into a new musical style, each one has been bloody good. SOBE doesn’t quite reach the heights of Flying Microtonal Banana to snatch the title of the bands best 2017 release so far, but it does give Murder of the Universe a damn good run for second place, and who knows, once the dust has settled, the rating at the end of this review may well be in need of some upwards adjustment.
What next then? Hip Hop? Country? Doom Metal? EDM? Fuck knows, it’s genuinely pointless to even speculate anymore, but the ride promises to be a wild one. Next album is due out in 30 seconds, probably; hold onto your minds.