Ranking all of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s 2017 Releases
Few, if any rock bands were as prolific in 2017 as King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. At the end of 2016, after coming out with one of their most well-received records, Nonagon Infinity, they announced that they had quite the ambitious plan for the next year: releasing five full-length albums. Although they cut it close, they followed through on this promise, coming out with Gumboot Soup on December 30th. Each of these albums gave fans of the band a different flavor of their versatile sound, and this run solidified King Gizz as one of the most prominent acts in the ever-growing Australian rock scene. Of course, given how many stylistic changes the band went through with each of these records, there are many differing opinions as to how they stack up to the rest of their rather lengthy discography. Here are mine.
5. Murder of the Universe
The final chapter of the “Nonagon Trilogy”, Murder of the Universe is reminiscent in sound and structure to 2016’s Nonagon Infinity, which many consider to be the group’s magnum opus. The record is split into three sections, each of them serving as plot points in this saga. I certainly could credit this record as being the band’s most ambitious effort of 2017; between each song’s breakneck pace, the intricate storyline, and the recurring melodic motifs, it is clear that somehow, King Gizz managed to put aside a great deal of time and attention to detail into Murder of the Universe. However, as meticulous and dense this record is, often times it feels like the band bit off a bit more than they could chew, so to speak.
Although it certainly flows well from song to song, it feels less like an album and more like an attempt at a psychedelic rock odyssey of sorts. It ends up being a pretty exhausting listen as a whole, especially when a good deal of the album’s runtime is taken up by spoken word passages. Although the melodic themes on Murder are interesting and are delivered in the typically fiery and energetic fashion we have come to expect from the band, there simply aren’t enough of them. While I think “Altered Beast” and “Lord of Lightning” are great ideas on their own and I’m sure they’re brilliant in a live setting, those two songs make up essentially 70% of the album, and the line “Altered Beast, Alter Me” loses its impact by the thirtieth time it comes up.
4. Gumboot Soup
For an album which was essentially advertised as a collection of B-sides, there are a surprising amount of solid cuts that turn up on King Gizz’s final album of 2017. In fact, at times this feels more like a collection of singles that didn’t make their way onto either of the previous four albums. However, there is definitely a sense of which songs were left off of which albums: the chill, jazzy grooves of “The Last Oasis” and “The Wheel” indicate that they were clearly recorded during the Sketches of Brunswick East sessions, while the microtonal guitar lead on “All is Known” would really only have fit on Flying Microtonal Banana, and so on. In this sense, the band’s greatest strength is their downfall on this record, as there’s predictably not much in terms of flow throughout the tracklisting due to a lack of consistency in sound. If I were to want to show someone a “sampler” of what the band is capable of, I might recommend this album. While I might come back to hear individual tracks, especially highlights like “Beginner’s Luck” or “Muddy Water”, I doubt that I’ll be revisiting Gumboot Soup often for a holistic album experience.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard opted to go in an In Rainbows-esque route on Polygondwanaland, releasing it completely for free on their website. They took this process a step further, encouraging fans to come together and create their own physical versions of the record, whether through tapes, CDs or even D.I.Y. vinyl LP production. Though it might be a bit of a stretch, I sort of see Polygondwanaland to have a similar place in King Gizz’s discography as In Rainbows does in Radiohead’s. Following a run of vastly different records, this offering is familiar (especially to fans of earlier records such as Quarters) yet continues to show subtle signs of progression and experimentation.
The incorporation of synthesizers on this record is a welcome one, and gives it a unique timbre throughout. The instrumental passages on Poly are as captivating as they are dense, with an interesting mix of the aforementioned synthetic sounds with acoustic guitars and layered flutes. Most of all, it’s astounding that on their fourth proper record of 2017, the band managed to come up with songs that were this well developed. Crumbling Castle is essentially everything great about this band put into one track. The stirring buildup of Inner Cell leading into the next two tracks is one of the most gratifying musical moments the band produced all year. The record reaches a bit of a lull nearing the end, but at its best, Polygondwanaland certainly holds up to the standard of the rest of the band’s discography.
2. Sketches of Brunswick East
A few months after releasing Murder of the Universe, one of the band’s heaviest records, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard came out with something…different. Sketches of Brunswick East was some of the most relaxed music the band has put out. A collaboration with Mild High Club brought a record clearly influenced by jazz and soul. There are zero “YEEUP”s on this record, which seems to be either the album’s greatest strength or weakness, depending on what kind of fan you are. Despite a lack of intensity on Sketches, there is very much a sense of direction. The songs are all individually pleasant and inoffensive, but they’re all just arranged so tastefully that it’s practically guilt-free.
While the bass guitar has always been a vital part of King Gizz’s sound in the past, on this record it seems to almost take the front seat at times, and Stu Mackenzie’s vocals are used more as additional layers of instrumentation. This is particularly prominent on songs like “Cranes, Planes, and Migraines” or “Dusk to Dawn on Lygon Street”. Overall, it’s a refreshing sound, and shows that these workaholic Australians can groove just as well as they can rock.
1. Flying Microtonal Banana
At the end of 2016, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard came out with “Rattlesnake”, the lead single off of their upcoming album titled Flying Microtonal Banana. The record, as the title suggests, would be an experiment in microtonal tuning, inspired by traditional Turkish music played on a microtonal guitar. To record an entire album under this condition would mean that each of the band’s seven members (yes, including both drummers) would have to modify their instruments to include microtonal frets. Was all this effort to make music with instruments that sound ever so slightly detuned worth it?
Yes. Yes it was. Like many of King Gizz’s best albums, Flying Microtonal Banana is at its very core a concept album. However, rather than having songs be interconnected through some recurring melodic theme or through an over-the-top fantastical plot involving altered beasts and vomit coffins, the songs are connected by this tonal challenge the band set for themselves. In fact, while there is a consistent sound to this record, each song stands on its own without flowing into the next one, which, oddly enough, is a bit of an anomaly for a King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard album at this point.
While “microtonal exploration” may seem like a gimmick of sorts, it actually works more as another dimension to a sound which may have otherwise sounded stale. There is a great sense of space throughout the record; the songs are individually minimalistic in structure, but capitalize on moments of sonic bliss. Whether they’re delivering seven-minute jams like “Rattlesnake” or “Open Water” or tight shorter cuts like “Billabong Valley” or “Nuclear Fusion”, each song seems to hold equal weight in the tracklisting. While the microtonal experimentation could have been taken a level further, this was such a compelling collection of songs that it didn’t hinder the quality of the album.
Although the band has not yet announced any new material coming out this year, if 2017 is any indication, there’s still much to be excited about in this band’s future.