Sean Keown, Contributor.
Back in the 1960’s, it was almost common for bands to release multiple albums in the space of a calendar year. The Beatles for example released 2 albums per year from 1963 – 1967, with the Beach Boys commanding similar output: 4 albums released in both 1963 and 1964. This was typical due to the shape of the industry at the time, with records being the primary source of a bands income, you could be forgiven for maybe squeezing out an extra album or two per year. However, with music streaming becoming the norm, the recent trend has been to release an album once every 2-4 years and then go off on a huge promotional tour before going back to write and record for the next 3 years. The same however cannot be said of Australian psyche/garage rock band ‘King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.’ The name is a mouthful, I know. However it was more than their name that caught people’s eyes in November of 2016, ”when they claimed they would be releasing not one, not two, but five full length albums in 2017.” And as of December 13th, they look to have made good on that promise, releasing two promotional singles, presumably taken from their fifth album of 2017.
Back in 2016 when they first made this claim, you would be forgiven for thinking this was mere boastfulness, a gimmick, clever marketing or all the above. However, passionate King Gizzard fans would have known this was not beyond the realm of possibility, and if there were ever a band that could pull this off, it would be them. The band since its inception in 2012 had already released 8 albums by the end of 2016, as well as a plethora of EPs, and even their own music festival, “Gizzfest” in 2015 and 2016. The bands work rate is immense compared to other artists within the industry today, and they have continued an extensive world tour while embarking on this five album adventure.
Now the first thing that came to my mind when I see a band releasing 5 albums in one calendar year was – well they can’t be any good? Surely the quality would suffer due to the quantity of music? Or maybe they would cut a few corners in order to make the ridiculous quota that they had set themselves? We seen this with Drake’s “More Life” playlist (yes – not album, not mixtape, but playlist) also released this year – a rushed collection of songs that likely didn’t make the cut when it came to his 2016 full length album “Views” and were merely glorified B-Sides masquerading as a full length project. But the opposite could not be more true when it comes to King Gizz. Each of their efforts is as intricate, planned, layered and original as the last, with the shortest of their 4 releases so far this year coming in at 38 minutes. With each album having its own unique theme and story to tell, as well as a distinctive style and mix of genres not seen by any working band today, this only adds to the immense task that they set themselves.
Their first album of 2017 (and where I began listening to the band) “Flying Microtonal Banana” (stay with me here), is an experiment into microtones, a musical theme that is typical of Eastern musical traditions, a perfect experimentation that fits the bands oddball aesthetic. The album is a triumph not only for the foray into musical themes and motifs that are not typical of Western popular traditions, but because they can make it their own, and it is immediately recognisable as a King Gizzard album.
Described by the band as a “concept album to end all concepts,” King Gizzards second release of the year saw “Murder of the Universe,” their heaviest and most far out lyrics to date. Continuing the unique themes that the band always brings to each individual album, “Murder of the Universe” is split up into three chapters, and uses spoken word to carry the narrative. While this may be off-putting to some, you can’t help but credit the bands immense creativity, and stellar execution on this immense 46 minute story, which is more typical of Tolkien than it is psychedelia.
In August, we saw King Gizzards first collaborative effort, combining with fellow Aussies Mild High Club on the jazz infused, “Sketches of Brunswick East.” The writing process was perfectly fitting for a band like King Gizzard, with guitarist and front man Stu McKenzie stating that “Sketches of Brunswick East” came about after he and Alex Brettin of Mild High Club exchanged iPhone voice memos, that they both described as “sketches” (hence the album’s title). After dropping “Murder of the Universe” the band took a complete U-turn, swapping out the distorted guitars and spoken word verses for jazzy keyboards and vocals. Typical of the band, they defy the logic of traditional genre trends, producing here what can only be described as elevator music on steroids.
“Polygondwanaland” was the bands 4th instalment in this five album series, and my personal favourite. The band released the album for free back in November. Along with the album art and release date, the band announced via Facebook, “This album is FREE. Free as in, free,” encouraging fans to make their own copies and bootlegs of the album as the band would not be selling them in any shape or form, even going so far as to put the master tapes for the album online for free use. With many fans taking these master tapes, printing their own unique vinyl designs for fellow fans to see, this is typical of what makes the band such a cult favourite. Beginning with the 10-minute epic “Crumbling Castle,” the album is a dreamy, airy delight from start to finish.
So with the release of the two promotional singles, “Beginners Luck” and “All is Known,” the band look to have made good on their five album promise. What could have been a tedious, gimmick filled endeavour has led to what I think is the musical story of 2017, a refreshing change of pace that sees a band constantly evolving, challenging themselves musically, and pushing the boundaries of genre. ‘King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’ were not bound by anyone but themselves to fill this ridiculous quota, and yet have delivered in every way imaginable. A band that I first dismissed as having a silly name, has become one of my new favourite bands, and hope they continue to delight in years to come.