Friday 10 November 2023

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - The Silver Cord (2023)

Country: Australia
Style: Psychedelic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 27 Oct 2023
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I blinked again. I believe I've reviewed more albums by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard than any other artist, this being my fifth, but, every time I find a new one, I realise too that I missed a host more. My previous review was of Omnium Gatherum, which came out last April but they released Made in Timeland earlier in 2022 and Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava, Laminated Denim and Changes after it, plus PetroDragonic Apocalypse earlier this year, whose seven tracks apparently serve as the yin to the yang of the seven others here. I can't keep up.

What's more, this album boasts two CDs, each featuring the same songs but with greatly different lengths. The regular album runs a mere twenty-eight minutes, making it rather short for anything by this band, but the other runs close to ninety, every one of these three to four minute songs over ten in their extended versions and the opener, Theia, over twenty. As you might expect, the short versions are snappier and more commercial and the extended mixes are more immersive. Oddly, the tracks on that earlier 2023 album add up to forty-eight minutes so it's an off balance yin/yang whichever way we look at it.

I haven't heard PetroDragonic Apocalypse, but it appears to be another metal album, following in the footsteps of Infest the Rats' Nest in 2019. This absolutely isn't, because it's electronica, though none of the components we think of as being associated with pop music make it so. This is still rock music, even if it's full of pop elements and comparisons will highlight that. For instance, Set is such electronica beats that it feels like house music when it starts out, with a tone right out of the new wave era and a lively attitude that's all seventies funk. Somehow, though, it ends up more like the Prodigy than any of the names you might expect, except perhaps Steven Wilson. He shouldn't be a particular surprise. The Prodigy only become more overt on Gilgamesh.

Notably, there are no actual guitars on this album, if I'm reading the credits right. However, there are plenty of guitar synthesisers. Similarly, I don't believe there are any actual drums, at least in the traditional sense, but there are electronic drums and drum machines. In fact, the core sound for the album stems from drummer Michael Cavanagh's impulse buy of a Simmons electronic drum kit. Fellow band member Joey Walker has said that "as soon as he plugged it in, I thought, 'That's the sound of the album right there."

What all that means is that hard beats are replaced by pulses and riffs are played on synthesisers rather than guitars, five of the six regular band members credited on synths of varied description, only Michael Cavanagh excluded because he's dedicated to electronic drums. Even then, two of his bandmates also have credits for drum machine. However, there are still beats and riffs and this is generally structured like rock music, most obviously a combination of prog and psychedelic, with a lot of Hawkwind in the effects but John Kongos in the drive of Chang'e and Yes in the vocal melody in Extinction.

I've been a fan of electronic rock music for decades, but this doesn't sound like any of the artists I listened to back in the eighties, like Tomita, Vangelis and Tangerine Dream. The latter are likely to be the closest comparison in that world, because they evolved substantially over the decades and became just as important to clubgoers dancing to the beats as those of us who sat in big venues to listen carefully to the depth of the music. However, I'm far less familiar with that era of their sound so I can't offer any comparisons. What I can say is that the Tangerine Dream influence is far more clear on the extended mixes with their long instrumental sections.

This is a fascinating album for me, because it's not remotely like anything I usually listen to, most obviously in the heavily manipulated vocals on the title track, but it is a King Gizzard album, so it's hardly unusual for it to be something completely different. That's kind of what they do. This is just new territory again for them and me. I'm not particularly sold on the short version of the album, not because it's all poppy electronica but because everything about it is so short. Every time they get a groove going, it's over to make way for the next track.

Personally, I'm far more into the longer version with the extended mixes, because the band are able to truly get their teeth into these vibes. I found more influences leaping out on these mixes too. I didn't hear Pink Floyd on the short version of the title track, for instance, but they're there on the twelve minute extended mix. And so, for rock and metal fans, especially those who perhaps found King Gizzard through PetroDragonic Apocalypse, this is definitely one for the open minded, but then that's kind of required for King Gizzard fans.

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