Wednesday, 17 March 2021

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - L.W. (2021)

Country: Australia
Style: Psychedelic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 26 Feb 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia

Probably Australia's most famous psychedelic rock band and certainly the most prolific, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard are back with another album, which is their seventeenth. This one is said to be a sequel to K.G., which came out last year, and it's the third in their thematic series, Explorations into Microtonal Tuning, which began with Flying Microtonal Banana in 2017. As they release albums every time I blink, I missed K.G., though I did review the two before that. The initials, of course, refer to the band. They've done a lot more clever things in their time than that, which may mean that I'm missing something more subtle here.

I can't speak to the technical aspects of these microtonal shenanigans but the result does sound perky to me, whether it's the upbeat and funky opener, If Not Now, Then When?, the genre-hopping vibes of O.N.E. or the psychedelic folk music of Pleura. And that's just the first three songs of nine. I'm sure an array of musicologists will dissect what King Gizzard are doing here but, from the point of view of the listener, these songs don't sound remotely like each other, but they nonetheless play well together, so I assume there are plenty more connections that I'm hearing.

I appreciate the variety and how deep some of these songs go. Pleura, for instance, begins and ends as a stoner rock song, but that riff turns into intricate psychedelic folk that reminds a little of the first side of Pink Floyd's Ummagumma translated into the modern era. Next up is Supreme Ascendancy and that starts out sounding Japanese, moves to the subcontinent and ends up wound around what seems to be a crazy complex breakbeat.

In a way, Static Electricity continues that, but with a middle eastern sound rather than anything from further east. And, as if to underline how deliberate that all is, it's followed by East West Link, which is what a western band playing with microtones is, I guess. However, it does feel odd to call King Gizzard a western band, given that Australia is due south of Japan, the Koreas and eastern China, even if they happen to be part of the Commonwealth. This could be called North South Link with as much validity.

I've found that King Gizzard are so inventive and, of course, so prolific, that the quality of the music they release varies and some of it might speak more to some people than others. I loved their endless loop of an album, Nonagon Infinity, and I liked a lot of Fishing for Fishies but was left dry by a lot of Infest the Rats' Nest. I like this one enough that I'd put it above the two I've reviewed but a notch or three behind Nonagon Infinity because it's not as consistent.

While the earlier tracks are strong when heard in isolation, I think L.W. manages to find its vibe with Supreme Ascendancy and keeps that going for for the rest of the album. Well, I'd say at least as far as See Me, five songs in, because K.G.L.W. wraps things up with a much doomier and metallic tone, but it's a lot closer to the vibe of the middle of the album than the earlier songs had. This whole section mixes various ethnic sounds of the east (or north) with a flavour of hypnotic psychedelic rock that's familiar to us here in the west (or south).

I don't know what the instrumentation is, because I can't find it listed anywhere but I'm assuming it's both traditional rock instruments and traditional instruments from world music, like sitars, bells and hand drums. I don't think that's a koto on Supreme Ascendancy, unless it's sampled and manipulated, which is very possible. Are those steel drums on See Me? K.G. also featured a ba─člama, a Turkish lute rather like a bouzouki, and it wouldn't surprise me if there was one in here too. There are surely a few different ethnic wind instruments as well and every one of these instruments adds another flavour to this multi-cultural soup.

And, at the end of the day, it all sounds excellent to me. Psychedelic rock is a surprisingly broad genre and it's bands like King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard who are continually expanding those boundaries. They just did that again on this album. Check out Static Electricity, which sits at the heart of it, for its standout track and, if you like that, just let the album play on. I may up my rating to an 8/10 yet.

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