King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard give psychedelic rock a modern twist

Recorded in an empty shipping container outside Stu’s parents’ house, they created a modern rock-folk masterpiece in this album. (Twitter/@kinggizzardband)

As a name like King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard would suggest, this seven-man collective out of Melbourne, Australia is nothing if not unique. Led by frontman Stu MacKenzie, these guys are singular not only in the scope of their sound but also in their character. The term psychedelic rock is used loosely to describe what is it exactly they do because it’s so difficult to pin down the work of a band this prolific, having released five full-length albums in 2017 alone—a feat previously promised to the the public. To the astonishment of the music industry, MacKenzie and company made good on their word at quite literally the last moment, releasing their most recent project “Gumboot Soup” on Dec. 30 to universal critical praise.

Putting out five albums in a year isn’t difficult. Putting out five good albums in a year, however, is nearly impossible. Somehow, King Gizzard managed to do just that, beginning with “Flying Microtonal Banana” in February of last year. While that name may sound entirely nonsensical, it is at least partially in reference to the ambitious concept they had for this album—writing every song using microtonal tuning.

Without getting overly technical, microtones are essentially any musical note which falls outside the traditional Western 12-tone chromatic scale. To better illustrate this concept, think of all the white and black keys in a given octave on a piano. We know these aren’t the only sounds that exist. So, logically, there must be sounds in between any two neighboring keys on the piano. This is where microtones exist.

Sounds in the microtonal scale are typically associated with Indian music, the Gamelan music of Indonesia and the sounds native to other Eastern countries. These notes, typically unfamiliar to the average America’s ear and often perceived as harsh and dissonant as a result, are made palatable through the genius of King Gizzard, effortlessly blending a heavy garage-rock style with snakecharmer-esque melodies.

Continuing with their theme of conceptual albums, “Nonagon Infinity” is a nine-track long LP that fluidly and seamlessly transitions between tracks, only to connect the final seconds of the last track with the opening of the first track to form an infinitely looping album—hence the title. “Nonagon Infinity” is a whirlwind of rhythmic guitar and punchy kicks that move at breakneck pace across 41 minutes of rock and roll history that have been put through a paper shredder and scotch-taped back together in a beautiful amalgam of the traditional and modern. The looping concept does not in any way limit the capabilities of the band. Rather, the album melds into one wholly and uniquely King Gizzard experience.

If there was any question as to where the boundaries lie for the psych-rock septet, their seventh release, “Paper Mâché Dream Balloon,” only served to muddy the already murky waters. In what is probably their most confident statement as a group, MacKenzie and his garage band of misfits more completely explore their musical talents by cutting the amp cords and going strictly acoustic.

Recorded in an empty shipping container outside Stu’s parents’ house, they created a modern rock-folk masterpiece in this album. We already knew King Gizzard to be masters of melody, but the songwriting and lyricism on “Paper Mâché Dream Balloon” is equally impressive, especially on the title track. Hearing a band like this explore previously uncharted territory with the clarinet, double bass and fiddle throughout the album is fascinating as a concept, and endlessly entertaining as a result.

The only way I can recommend anyone experience King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, at least initially, is to try a small sampling from each album because there is so much variation between the ideas in each of them. It’s entirely possible to hate one and be absolutely enamored with the next. Even within a single album, certain tracks stick out among the rest as unusually funky. In either case, you’ll certainly broaden your musical horizons if nothing else.


Mitchell Clark is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at mitchell.clark@uconn.edu.