King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard aren’t really a psychedelic rock band. It’s a useful, off-hand label for a group that’s so genre averse they wrap each album in a new songwriting gimmick, but the raw garage-psych of their early years is firmly over. Their latest release, ‘Butterfly 3000’, is both the closest and furthest they’ve come to returning to these roots, as they submerge themselves in the breathy vocals of dream pop.
The ‘pop’ half of that is very much the important bit. All catchy melodies and plucky synth arpeggiators, the band come close to straight-down-the-line dance tracks on this record. ‘2.02 Killer Year’ could be ripped straight from MGMT’s discography, and the trance-like ‘Blue Morpho’ is probably best experienced 30 years ago while high on MDMA in The Haçienda. ‘Catching Smoke’, meanwhile, is an outright radio-worthy party hit, with chorus vocals and head-bopping synth lines as seductive as any of the band’s previous scuzzy guitar work.
But rather than feeling like a jarring turn of direction for the Aussie rockers, these pop-oriented additions are a perfect pairing to their existing sound. Looping arps sit naturally on top of the band’s cyclical motorik drum beats, and the unrelenting pulse that previously drove meandering guitar jams now squares as a persistent, vibey groove.
It’s not all change. Plenty of the band’s classic motifs pop up: frenetic snare and tom fills, occasional yelps from singer Stu Mackenzie, and spots of overfuzzed wah guitar in the menacing outro of ‘Black Hot Soup’. But there’s a defined progression. Not of musicality, but of propriety. King Gizzard has managed to transport their sound from the mosh pit to the dance floor, while feeling entirely sincere in the summer party, eyes-glazed-over aesthetic.
Oddly, ‘Butterfly 3000’ shines brightest not through its movement but its precise arrangements. Interspersed acoustic guitar on tracks like ‘Ya Love’, easy piano lines on ‘Interior People’, and well-placed vocal harmonies interweave with synth pads into lush sonic blankets. It reaffirms that the band are at their best when pared-down. Stripping back the layers of guitar overdubs that saturated their previous records, they’ve found something far less abrasive, but all the rawer.
That’s not to say there aren’t a few duds. Looping synth lines can’t stand up on their own, and the likes of ‘Shanghai’ and ‘Dreams’ wear thin under a perfectly pleasant, but decidedly uninteresting, melodic surface. On those occasions where King Gizzard fully embraces the groove, however, ‘Butterfly 3000’ is a real treat.
Words: Callum Bains
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