While Kendrick reconquered the world for the third time and Big Thief made a wonderfully fragile, human album in a year that felt distinctly less than that, Melbourne’s King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard released one of the most consistent, creatively challenging five-album runs in recent memory.
By this point last year, percussionists Michael Cavanagh and Eric Moore, guitarists Cook Craig and Joey Walker, bassist Lucas Skinner, keyboard/harmonica/vocalist Ambrose Kenny-Smith, and lead vocalist/flutist/guitarist Stu Mackenzie had a reputation for treating each album with a sense of Willy Wonka–style experimental abandon. They’d already made a seamless garage punk infinity loop, an all-acoustic campfire circle, and a perfectly quartered album down to exact track lengths, in addition to a sizable slew of high-octane psych rock records.
When the band announced in late 2016 that they would spend the next year releasing five LPs, it was fair to ask just how much creative ground they had left to cover—let alone in twelve months. However, armed with two drummers, three guitarists, one bassist, one flying microtonal banana, one Alex Brettin of Mild High Club, and a pile of other instruments, the psych rock seven-piece forged ahead, successfully creating some of their most distinct, uncompromised, and focused material yet.
As King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard take off for a victory lap, bringing these sixty-four new songs on an international tour, we’ve ranked each of their 2017 releases.
5. Murder of the Universe (Jun. 23)
Of all the creative possibilities King Gizzard could’ve used to pull off their five-record commitment, Murder of the Universe is easily their most batshit strategy. Here, Mackenzie and Co. crammed twenty-one tracks into a forty-seven minute, three-suite concept record full of altered beasts, earth-shattering monster battles, and a cyborg named Han-Tyumi whose sole wish is to one day vomit and die.
It may sound surprising, but the finer details of this bonkers doomsday tale are the best part about Murder of the Universe. King Gizz commit to their narrative with bleak, grotesquely vivid depictions of the universe’s final, vomit-filled moments accompanied by a formidable punk-metal soundtrack. However, their use of long spoken word passages and repetitive musical motifs (especially the mind-numbing four-part “Altered Beast”) makes each return listen more of a slog than the next.
4. Sketches of Brunswick East (Aug. 18)
After the morbid doom of Murder of the Universe, King Gizzard took another creative hard left with a sunny, jazz-fusion collaborative album with Alex Brettin of LA’s Mild High Club.
Sketches of Brunswick East is a warm sonic meadow of extended flute solos, keyboard, electric piano, and exceptional bass playing. Nearly half the tracks are short instrumental interludes, and almost all of them constitute the record’s true highlights, especially the smeared flutes and flanged, sticky guitar of the head-bobbing “Rolling Stoned.”
As pleasant as this jet-puffed version of the band can be, the strained vocals of “Countdown,” meandering tango of “You Can Be Your Silhouette” and uneven three-part “Sketches of Brunswick East” show a normally razor-sharp band occasionally dabbling into near elevator-music territory.
3. Gumboot Soup (Dec. 31)
Released as the photo finish conclusion to their year-long challenge, the band’s fifth album of the year is also the one true King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard sampler platter. Culled from the songs that didn’t quite fit the other four projects, Gumboot Soup’s eleven tracks should not be dismissed as mere B-sides, but rather sketches of the many other albums that could have been.
“The Great Chain of Being” is a booming, gauntlet-throwing challenge to every lesser stoner metal band King Gizz could slay if they let their riffs crush and crumble more often. Elsewhere, the booty-shaking, percussive-slapping trio of “Down the Sink,” “I’m Sleepin’ In,” and “Barefoot Desert” hint toward a lost psych-funk classic.
For potential fans looking to find a foothold in this band’s temporarily stalled output, there’s no better record to jump on board with. (Two months without an album? Slackers.)
2. Flying Microtonal Banana (Feb. 24)
King Gizz’s first record of 2017 starts and ends with Stu Mackenzie’s flying microtonal banana, a modified guitar capable of reaching the quarter-tones normally found in the traditional music of the Middle East. Inspired by its unique sound, Mackenzie reportedly gave each of his bandmates $200 to outfit their instruments with similar microtonal capabilities.
The resulting record is, arguably, one of the most unique and trance-like psychedelic rock records of the last decade. By fusing some of their jammiest material yet with these quarter tones, the band turns songs like “Rattlesnake,” “Open Water,” and “Melting” into intoxicating krautrock taffy.
Perhaps disarming at first listen, Flying Microtonal Banana is a deeply layered record that rewards each return trip with new earworms to obsess over. One week it’s the thwacking back-half of “Sleep Drifter,” the next it’s the double-cymbal guitar crash of “Nuclear Fusion.”
1. Polygondwanaland (Nov. 17)
Imagine a group of manic wizards whispering conflicting prophecies that constantly distort the world into new, terrifying shapes and you’ll start to gain a sense of what King Gizzard’s fourth record of 2017 sounds like.
On the conceptual Polygondwanaland, King Gizzard sidestep the bloat of Murder of the Universe in favor of an instrumentally dense, narratively loose record that is their unequivocal peak performance.
The mysterious journey begins with the breathtaking “Crumbling Castle,” an eleven-minute psych-prog wormhole that remains captivating from its opening bass throb to the screeching, corroding guitar chords of its final moments. And that’s just the first song.
While Polygondwanaland is full of electric fury, softer moments like “The Castle in the Air,” “Inner Cell,” and “Tetrachromacy” manage to keep up the intensity with ever-shifting patterns of interlocking acoustic guitar and expertly syncopated polyrhythms.
In short, it’s the sound of one of the best rock bands out there kicking ass. FL