Is there anything King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard can’t do? The Australian psychedelic juggernauts have amassed a colossal catalogue, one that moves from pitchy, short-form pop-centric songwriting to, well, the kind of amorphous prog-induced frenzies that King Crimson could only dream about.
Lockdown, then, must have come as something of a culture shock. The Melbourne based troupe were kept under lock and key, and their final release resulted in an explosion of creativity. It also led to a shift in methodology – endless jams, somehow cut ‘n’ pasted into something coherent, and (semi) linear. It’s a manner of working that recalls those early 70s Miles Davis albums, when he’d simply cut the tape where he liked, making studio incisions into the potent chemistry of the musicians he’d gathered around him.
Potent chemistry is certainly a driver on this latest Gizzard excursion. Opening cut ‘Mycelium’ bubbles into this jaunty, offbeat rhythm, a kind of tropical, almost ska-like syncopation. Rippling with light, the neat interplay leads to a joyous “woooo!” as the pop format is stretched until it breaks down completely.
‘Ice V’ gurgles into life with backwards tape loops, before descending into a choppy, psych-pop set of guitar chords. Nothing is truly consistent, however, and within minutes it moves into a Krautrock leaning groove, the rhythms infinite amid the gospel-drenched backing vocals.
In turn, ‘Magma’ is lush, and wide open at its transcendental opening passage, before distilling itself down to focussed songwriting. All fuzz, and wild late 60s vibes, it’s a true counter-cultural statement.
Each song – if, indeed, you can call such transformative work ‘songs’ – on the record feels as though it’s birthing secret after secret, a little like Russian dolls, with idea after idea being removed from the centre. This cellular approach has precedent in their work, but it’s rarely been so pronounced, or as focussed. ‘Lava’ is a snip at only six minutes, and it’s a pastoral delight with the flute line hinting as a subtle Japanese air in their arrangement.
By contract, however, ‘Hell’s Itch’ is colossal. A 13 minute statement, it’s wild, untamed, and brutal, yet somehow sustains itself over such an incredible span. A lot of bands say this, but only King Gizzard deliver: ‘Hell’s Itch’ is truly a journey.
Switching it up once more, ‘Iron Lung’ begins as a moment of psych-pop introspection, before surging out towards the horizon, the red hot organ recalling those late 60s Brian Auger numbers. It all leads to over-the-top finale ‘Gliese 710’ and it’s warp, chanted lyrics demanding we “reheat the dead”. A kind of ecological plea, it seeks to “eat the mushroom / cool the lava” amid discordant saxophone, a continual grasp towards life.
Now on to Album #21, we’ve long since given up placing expectations on King Gizzard’s work. Even amid their storied catalogue, however, ‘Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms And Lava’ is quite something. Element, and devoutly ambitious, it’s a record to be absorbed at its own pace.
Words: Robin Murray