By Thomas Richards
The everchanging Australian group King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard keeps its reputation of being one of the most eclectic bands intact with its 16th full-length album, K.G. This being the first album released after the departure of band manager and drummer Eric Moore, some were worried that could adversely affect the music.
However, the change seems to have been for the best, as the album engages listeners as much as, or even more than, most of the band’s hard-to-categorize catalog.
K.G. is the second volume in what King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard calls “explorations into microtonal tuning” It’s music that uses a different scale than contemporary western music. It’s the follow-up to the first volume, Flying Microtonal Banana. The band paired the release of the new studio album with a live LP of a show recorded at The Independent in San Francisco in 2016; appropriately titled Live in San Francisco ’16.
K.G. improves over its predecessor in almost every way, avoiding its repetition and lack of instrumental depth. The band builds onto the previous album by incorporating elements from its back catalog, including jazz, metal and soft rock. Additionally, it seems to have a much better handle on writing microtonal pieces. If Flying Microtonal Banana is like learning to write, K.G. is like writing a complete novel.
Stu Mackenzie, the resident visionary and leading light, wrote or co-wrote all 10 mostly uptempo numbers here, and as usual, sings most of them. These songs comprise one of the most diverse and varied King Gizzard albums.
Opener “K.G.L.W.” is a rare instrumental piece for the band. It’s as close to musical minimalism as King Gizzard gets. Starting from the sound of wind, it slowly evolves with flute, acoustic guitar, a subdued bass, and a hi-hat. The shortest track on the album has a somewhat eerie tone, not unlike that of horror movie themes.
“Straws in the Wind” is arguably the peak of K.G., and the only song on which the softer voice of Ambrose Kenny-Smith takes the lead. Starting off with only vocals, drum, bass and guitar, other instruments are eventually layered on top of each other, including an additional guitar, piano, synthesizers and sitar. This all builds up to a harmonica solo (also by Kenny-Smith), after which the song returns to its soothing beginning.
The biggest surprise K.G. offers might well be “Intrasport,” which comes off almost as an EDM song. However, it still presents distorted guitars and a Middle-Eastern-based riff that’s led by a synth string duet. The song itself, more-so than the rest of the album, is its own genre. Even if you’re ultimately not a fan of it, you can’t say it’s not interesting.
“Honey” is as close as this album gets to pop music, which is saying a lot for a song written in 7/4 time and a nonwestern scale. It’s a love song, which is an aberration for King Gizzard. Remember: this band has recorded more songs about a cyborg (yes, more than one) than human relationships. Mackenzie plays most of the instruments here himself.
The album’s closer, “The Hungry Wolf of Fate,” is the turbid yin to “Honey’s” poppy yang. Taking notes from a previous album, Infest the Rats’ Nest, the band delves into heavy metal, adding effect upon effect to the shrieking guitars and vocals that are nigh impossible to discern over the sound of everything else. Every so often, there are breaks in the songs that leave some breathing room, only to get blasted suddenly back into high gear. As the last chord sounds, the feedback morphs into the wind from which the album started.
On K.G., King Gizzard has accomplished my biggest wish for them, combining different elements of their past output onto one album. It rivals the critically acclaimed Nonagon Infinity for the band’s strongest album to date. K.G. also avoids some of the pitfalls of the band’s previous albums, improves on previous paths taken and tests a few new ones to positive effect.