All Hail The Genre-Bending Band: A Complete Rundown of King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

This seven-piece Australian native multifarious rock band has been the band on everyone’s playlist for a lot of rock and roll aficionados at the moment. With no-two-albums sounding the same and curating Fifteen (15) albums in the decade they’ve been together… It’s not too shocking that this band has landed on my lap like a little gift — well, big gift.

The name “King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard” derives from the band’s appreciation for the psychedelic king himself, Jim Morrison of The Doors… Who would commonly go by the title of “The Lizard King”. The word ‘Gizzard’? Well, Stu Mackenzie, the bassist, vocalist, guitarist, keyboardist and FLUTE player of the band wanted the name “Gizzard Gizzard” in there. I’m glad they were able to find a compromise. 

Despite this article topic being recommended to me via Instagram (be sure to follow if you ever want me to check out a band), this is something I’ve been meaning to discuss and write about for a while now, due to its complex take on the psychedelic genre. 

This band is like an onion (yes donkey, onions have layers). Every time I take notes on an album and think I have come to a ‘conclusion’ about the thematic vibe they use… I’m completely derailed with the next record. Hell, there are times when I write down a thought for a song, and then 30 seconds later it’s something completely different. 

If the band had a slogan, it would be:

“The magical mystery tour is waiting to take you away”… all aboard the trip that is King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard.

Every single song on their discography is a kaleidoscopic journey that has a story to tell… all on its own. 

With 15 albums under their belt, the band, most commonly called, King Gizzard, literally has something for everyone. Looking for a beachy-garage record? Their first studio LP 12 Bar Bruise (2012) is just exactly that.  It’s also worth mentioning that this 12-track album was completely self-recorded, and several tracks used unconventional recording methods.

How unconventional you may ask? Consider the recording process for the vocals on this album. For example, the album’s title track had been recorded by placing four iPhones around a room, while Mackenzie sang into one of the phones directly.

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Stu Mackenzie of King Gizzard (Credit to KEXP Seattle)

Fancy a Jazz record to break up your garage rock playlists? try their seventh studio album Paper Mâché Dream Balloon (2015). King Gizzard even has an audiobook album called Eyes Like the Sky (2013). This was the band’s second LP that is described to be a “cult western audiobook” set in the American Frontier, although it may give me some Charles Manson vibes, you definitely cannot deny the brilliance.

We’ve already discussed three radically different genres of albums that the band has done, yet we’ve only covered 20% of the band’s catalogue. What possibly else has the band accomplished in the last 10 years? How about the fact the band, not only, challenged themselves to release FIVE (5) ALBUMS IN ONE YEAR, but they actually somehow succeeded at the task.

FIVE STUDIO LP’S.

IN ONE YEAR.

If that doesn’t scream, “making music is our lives”, I don’t know what else could prove that sentiment. To me, it puts a lot of musicians that say “I am always making music” to shame. Like are you really?

But, before we discuss the chaotic music energy that the band was riding high off of in 2017, there are still some cool little facts about the other records to review. For example, King Gizzard’s sixth studio LP Quarters! (2015) has four songs on it that are ten minutes and ten seconds,  thus making the four tracks taking up a quarter of the space. For what specific reason does this serve? Well, who knows, other than it was a calculated decision that is pretty damn weird (but rad) and I think it represents the band well.

Another interesting note about the album Quarters! (2015) is that the vibe of it is more laid back than the previous LP’s, which was probably a calculated move to set the tone for their seventh LP (that was dropped only a mere 6 months later), that would later become the infamous Jazz record, Paper Mâché Dream Balloon (2015), that landed the band a nomination for “best jazz album” at the ARIAs (Australian Grammys).

Then there is the eighth studio LP, Nonagon Infinity (2016), that multi-talented frontman Stu Mackenzie described as a “never-ending album”. Mackenzie told publications that,

” [Nonagon Infinity] features nine songs connected by musical motifs which flow seamlessly into each other with the last track linking straight back into the top of the opener like a sonic“.

To me, it’s the perfect ‘put it on your record player and not have to worry about it’ album.  Like Mackenzie stated, every song flows beautifully together, and although this may be a pretty standard notion for most other bands/albums, this is not the standard practice for King Gizzard.  The band has proven with their preceding albums that their music is eclectic and each song has a mind of their own, therefore it’s different and fresh for the seven-piece Australian wizards to create something so cohesive.

Speaking of “every song having a mind of their own”, this is where/how/why the “five albums; one-year” challenge took shape. Mackenzie has shared in many interviews that the recording process of every album is very open, and thus allowing themselves to free themselves of genre restraints and let the songs evolve into what they need to be.

However, this can result in creating songs that don’t have a proper home to live in, because they are all so different from one another. The band may pride themselves in their genre-less creativity, but even they are aware that there needs to be some sort of cohesiveness, whether it be melodic, thematic, etc. 

“We had this random batch of songs, it was not a cohesive record at all. So we thought we’d split up and split up again until it became five” – Stu Mackenzie, November 2017

According to Stu Mackenzie, the most typical approach for tackling the recording process is going into the studio with a general theme in mind. Although the band does not strive for a specific genre, and there is a high emphasis on not creating pressure amongst themselves to attain a particular sound, a form of structure is wanted. Even when you are trying to create something exaggeratively experimental, you still need the album to flow together nicely for it to be pleasant enough to listen to.

Nevertheless, throughout the years this method has caused the band to compile an array of songs that have not found a place in an alum they were working on. Still, Mackenzie stresses that these songs are not to be considered ‘b-sides’ and, therefore, these five albums that were released in 2017 are not a ‘best of throwaways’ album(s). Instead, they are creative endeavours that were too special for previous projects.

(That’s how you know someone really loves their art, nothing is a ‘leftover’)

On the 24th of February, 2017, the band released their ninth studio LP Flying Microtonal Banana (2017). What I find to be most fascinating about this record, is that the idea of it was conceptualized with the intent of being played on the Turkish instrument called “baglama” (a stringed instrument with moveable frets [thanks google]). Howeverpresumably, because it’s hard to find a baglama in Australia, the band, instead, used instruments that can be modified for the microtonal tuning, giving the same illusion of a baglama being played.

Conclusively, the album was recorded in “quarter-tone tuning”, which, according to google, “is when an octave is divided into 24 equally distanced quarter tone“, successfully leaving a psychedelic-middle-eastern imprint amongst the album. To me, it is that hauntingly beautiful tone in the background that makes Flying Microtonal Banana (2017) so dreamy.

It’s crazy to think that although at this point and time the band was prepared to release at least four other albums later that year, they were still putting an extensive level of meticulous effort, as well as creative power, that many bands don’t even put into one album (in the every 3-4 years it takes to record/release an album).

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King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

 

Continuing along with this magical mystery excursion of King Gizzard, we’re brought to album number ten, Murder of the Universe (June 2017). If it wasn’t enough for the band to break genres, drop multiple albums in one year that have been mainly recorded in a home studio, they also decided that their tenth album should be three albums in one. 

Yup, Murder of the Universe is a three-parter concept album with a total of 21 songs.

The band approached this project intending to create a “concept album to end all concept albums”. This was accomplished by putting together three chaptered albums that narrate this whimsical tale of “impending doom of the world in a dark fantasy genre”. It’s important to emphasize that the word ‘narrate’ is not used synonymously for anything, as the album has a literal narration in spoken word form embellished throughout the three parts.

The first two chapters are called The Tale of the Altered Beast and The Lord of Lightning vs Balrog were narrated by Leah Senior. The last chapter, Han-Tyumi and the Murder of the Universe are narrated by a text-to-speech computer, to most likely signify that computers have successfully taken over the world. Ultimately, this record takes the listener on a playful journey of apocalyptical psychedelia.

Even though Murder of the Universe sounds more like an avant-garde art project than an actual record, this is the album that introduced the band the big ole-US OF A with their first international television debut. King Gizzard performed “The Lord of Lightning” on Conan in the United States.

Which, to me, is mad. Out of all the albums to gain international attention, it’s that one?? Bonkers.

The crazy doesn’t stop there, fortunately for us. We are now on the eleventh studio album Sketches of Brunswick East (August 2017). Sketches of Brunswick East is a collaborative record with Alex Brettin of Mild High Club. The album draws inspiration from Miles Davis’ 1960 album Sketches of Spain…And well, Jazz is good for the soul… that’s all I can say about that.

I need to reiterate and stress, that this band dropped a narrative rock doom-inspired record, a soft jazz album about “representing greater changes that are happening in the wider world, and (this is) our attempt to find beauty within a place that we spend so much time” (quoted by Stu Mackenzie, himself). All in two months.

This just blows my mind because I’ve been regularly researching music for the last 12 years, and in this time I’ve been often told by musicians, well, more like being sold by musicians a lot of bullshit.

This bullshit is usually something along the lines of how their latest album had been “such a creative endeavour” for them and that they had to “take themselves into a completely different headspace for at least a year“. To only be met with the fact that all they did is decide to cut out leather jackets from their wardrobe, wear suit jackets instead, and use more synths in their songs.

It took them three years to accomplish that.

So, now that I’m introduced to King Gizzard and the knowledge that they can create concept albums, soft-jazz, middle-eastern psychedelic, and thrash inspired garage rock, in a single year? I feel like a child that has been spoiled in a candy shop.

Anyways back to the 2017 releases, their twelfth LP is called “Polygondwanaland” (November 2017). The most important fact about this album is that it was, not only, released into the world FOR FREE, but the band made sure there weren’t any copyrights holding it down. For what reason?

Well, as if these seven Australians could not be more incredible Wizard’s, they wanted to encourage independent pressing plants to use this album as their first release, for them [not the band] to promote and make money off of?????? (yes question marks, because ??????)

“Make tapes, make CD’s, make records . . . Ever wanted to start your own record label? GO for it! Employ your mates, press wax, pack boxes. We do not own this record. You do. Go forth, share, enjoy.” – King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard (2017)

In a time where we get copyrighted on social media for using 10-second clips of songs under big labels, this is amazing and truly embodies the soul of ROCK N ROLL.

They give their fans all this wide choice of music to choose from, as well as business opportunities to get their music projects kickstarted. But, Alas, all good things come to an end… King Gizzard dropped their thirteenth and their last album of 2017 on the 30th of December, called Gumboot Soup

Despite the tears of the fans, I can only imagine how satisfying that felt for the group. Mackenzie shared that this record was the final recordings of that year that, again, didn’t have an album to call home. But in true King Gizzard style, he stressed that these are not B-Sides, just songs that did not fit thematically with the other four 2017 releases.

Now, I won’t be the enemy and call Gumboot Soup a b-side album, especially since I know it would be against the band’s wishes and values, but you can kind of tell why the songs were cut out of the other four records.

For example, the opening track “Beginners Luck” sounds more like a Tame Impala track than anything else [and if you’re not new here, you would know my strong dislike for that band]. There are however a few bangers on this record because, at the end of the day, King Gizzard (unlike Tame Impala) put some flavour in their songs. An example would be “The Great Chain of Being”, which is the Lizard Wizard’s take on Sleep‘s infamous dragonaut. Melodic, sludgy, and head-banging worthy.

However, the album is skippable. So if you’ve made it this far and feel overwhelmed with what albums you should listen to, Gumboot Soup is not one of them (sorry).

So the seven men hailing from Australia survived something deemed so impossible by many, but not without a hiccup (of course). Mackenzie admitted in November of 2017, “We came close to burning ourselves out or at least wringing each other’s necks. We took a break, and then all these random, disparate song ideas came out of that void of not recording for a little while. Then we worked on everything one album at a time.” 

I, for one, do not blame them.

One would assume that after that bustling year, they would take at least a year off to put their instruments down and recuperate. Yeah, that would make the most sense if this band was human.

Instead, like true Lizard Wizards the band embarked on a tour and re-released five older records….oh, and they were back in the studio recording their fourteenth album that was set to be released in 2019.

On April 9th, 2019, one month after announcing that they will release the LP Fishing for Fishes, their fourteenth album, the band dropped a music video for the song “Planet B”.   This action quickly left an air of confusion for fans because the band had already shared the leading single Fishing for Fishes titled “Boogieman Sam” earlier, which was the complete opposite to thrash-metal-inspired “Planet B”.

Nonetheless, King Gizzard released their fourteenth studio album in late April of 2019, despite the initial details of the record being leaked to web-stores a month prior, and the mysterious track of “Planet B” floating around in the world.  This album was much more bluesy than fans expected, and to quote Stu Mackenzie himself, the album was “blues-boogie-shuffle-kinda-thing“. The record was successful nevertheless.

People do often say that the most greedy of people are those that are fed the most.

editing Darya: no, no one says that. I just made it up… but it sounds about right. 

This statement, however, comes to life after King Gizzard shares Planet B, because even though they [the fans] were abundantly spoiled in the last 2 years with six brand-spanking-new LPs, as well as remasters of their older records…They were still puddering about the purpose of Planet B. People wanted more of the thrashy garage rock vibes of Planet B, and thus, abandoned the hype Fishing for Fishes to inquire more.

Thankfully, the fans were not left in the dark for long, because during a Reddit AMA, that was supposed to promote Fishing for Fishes, Stu confirmed that the band was working on a fifteenth album and it would include “Planet B”

Wow.

Just wow.

The band spent the next three months teasing the release of Infest the Rats’ Nest (2019), by sporadically sharing singles off the highly anticipated album.  The anticipation was built on the basis that this record will “go back to King Gizzard roots” and drawing on heavy metal origins, which is what a lot of fans were long awaiting.

Infest the Rats’ Nest (2019) was quick to become a fan favourite. From the double kick drumming style, the nostalgic psychedelic garage rock guitar tones and thrash metal influences this album exploded in popularity (and what was caught my attention).

Stu explained that “the A-side [of Infest the Rats’ Nest] is about current problems, especially ecological disaster, and is set in the near future, and the B-side is about the story of a group of rebels attempting to settle on Venus after being forced to leave Earth”. 

Truly a brilliant psychedelic garage rock album, that has taken a spot in my “all-time favourite” albums after one listen.

With all that being said we are finally approaching the end of this magical mystery tour as we are now at present-day of King Gizzard’s journey.

So far, with it only being two months into 2020, the band appears to be focused on releasing live albums with 100% of the proceeds going towards fighting the Australia wildfires and saving Australian wildlife. Because, duh, great group of people.

They’ve also sprinkled some tour dates around North America and Europe, but the scarcity of it tells me that we can, once again, expect an incoming of new music shortly.

My conclusion of this deep-dive is: I don’t know how they do it, but I sure understand why. Nothing overcomes the love of your craft, no matter how exhausted, you find a way to put your creative jeans on and work. I find King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard to not only be extremely inspiring, but talented, and refreshing. They are without a doubt a group of individuals worth supporting.

I’ve safely boarded the bus to this magical mystery tour that King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard offers, I hope you do too.

sources: [x] , [x] , [x] & [x]

Until next time Interwebs! 🕸


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