“What the hell are you listening to?” It was a question I became familiar with last year as I blasted the discography of Melbourne band King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard throughout the upstairs of my small apartment. My roomie never asked the question out of disgust, but rather intense curiosity. I was never sure how to answer her. Since their first album 12 Bar Bruise in 2012, the group have dipped their toes into nearly every style of music, from blues and noise rock to classical and raga. I suppose the easy answer would have been ” a psychedelic Australian band” as the country is responsible for some of the best lysergic tinged music of recent days, yet I could never use that vague description in full confidence. A simultaneous nomination for ARIA’s Best Jazz Album (Quarters!) and a win for AIR’s Best Heavy/Hard Rock/Punk album (I’m in Your Mind Fuzz) proves that it’s nearly impossible to pigeonhole the gang.
Like the title of their seventh release Paper Mache Dream Balloon, the work of KGATLW resembles a DIY garage art piece that cuts out inspiration from many places and seamlessly forms something new. After being able to catch their flawless set at The Sidewinder in Austin this past September, I can assure you that I now count them as one of my faves. One would imagine the risk of sounding sloppy with so many members and instruments (including 2 drummers, a harmonica, and sometimes the flute) would be high, but King Gizz never lost pace, with each groove smoothly transitioning to the next. I couldn’t even tell you what their “best song” of the night was, it was an experience more akin to watching a spellbinding acid-rock concerto than anything…..without getting too “jammy” or lost in the fuzz.
Released on their own label Flightless (just like the rest of their catalog), their most recent album finds the group escaping to sunny Strawberry Fields, playing with an acoustic folky sound and a very prominent flute presence. While the music is, dare I say, a bit more romantic compared to the kaleidoscopic meltdowns featured on previous work, singer Stu Mackenzie fluctuates between escaping in the dream balloon, telling tales of isolation and questioning human behavior. The opener “Sense” has a stripped-down acid-jazz feel, and is deceivingly gentle in nature, as this album WILL take you down the rabbit hole IF you so choose. The often bouncy, cheerful music backs stories of battling demons (like on NGRI Bloodstain) and the feeling of bleeding from the eyes (on Most of What I Like). Perhaps the only blatantly psych track, “Trapdoor” begins with a creepy trance-like loop and the video shows the band having a freakout in a medieval castle.
“Bitter Boogie” could easily be performed in a smoke filled blues shack outside of Memphis and onstage at Coachella with approval from the audience. “Everyone thinks I am shallow when I’m hiding in my room”, Stu explains on “NGRI Bloodstain”. NGRI (stands for Not Guilty Reasonable Insanity in the legal system) reels you in a with a rockabilly piano hook and grimy harmonica bit. King Gizzard are very good at making mental moments sound more fun than traumatic. The release also has moments of dreamy drifting, most noticeably on the title track “Paper Mache Dream Balloon”, with the lyrics “Stuck in a daydream, under a moonbeam”. The veil between starry-eyed flower child poetic musing and absolute terror is kept very thin. The album wraps with “Paper Mache”, a reprisal track rehashing the best moments of the record. Fans of the group’s scuzzier, more combative sounds may find themselves a little confused on this release, but overall, it is definitely worth a spin. They may be floating in their magical hot air balloon, but when/if they come down, there’s no telling where King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard will land for their next album.
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