In 10 years and twenty albums, King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard of Melbourne have sketched out a musical universe of Tolkian complexity. Consider some of the many waypoints that would fill a six-piece psych band world map: “Barefoot Desert,” “Billabong Valley,” and “The Castle in the Air” sit alongside “Shanghai,” “Sketches of Brunswick East,” and , simply, “Hell”. The band uses these place songs to play up complex analogies about climate change and as metaphors for stress and unease, as well as just for the sake of, say, writing about a place called “Polygondwanaland”.
This kind of surreal mapping is in itself a nice metaphor for King Gizzard’s career path over the past decade. Since the release of 2015 Quarters!the band took an increasingly concept-driven approach to making records, with each album closely approximating a theme or compulsion. Flying microtonal banana in 2017, KG. (2020), and L.W. (2021) were all made using microtonal tuning methods, for example, while those in 2019 Infest the rats nest was inspired by the metal icons of the 80s. Butterfly 3000 (2021) synthesizer featured for the first time in the band’s work, and 2017 murder of the universe was a hero’s journey style narrative album about a battle between the forces of good and evil.
Aside from a handful of consistent lines – strains of Indian and West African influence, a lyrical fixation on the corruption of power and climate change – these albums are all starkly different, postcards from wildly disparate pockets of the Gizzverse. It’s a unique artistic approach that suits a business methodology that has proven hugely influential over the last decade: if not for King Gizzard, I doubt we would have seen a vinyl revival happen on the scale that it a, and I certainly doubt it would therefore be geared towards fancy colored variants and limited editions.
In the beginning Omnium Gatherum, their 20th studio album, King Gizzard stumbles upon another wonder of their world: “Magenta Mountain,” a towering mirage of a mountain inspired by something King Gizzard singer and producer Stu Mackenzie dreamed up. Over a rich, synthesized beat, Mackenzie sings of the impossibility of her vision: “The mirage escapes from your dream / Can’t you see you’ve gone mad?”
The Magenta Mountain itself is cute concept and neat lyrical conceit, another piece of lore from a group hive mind that’s more adept at building the world than some fantasy writers. But it’s the journey that’s the most exciting. “Magenta Mountain” signals the biggest and most intriguing stylistic shift to occur on a King Gizzard record in recent memory: a slight step toward supple R&B grooves and a return to a pop form rarely seen in discography. of the band since the hugely underrated 2015 acoustic album. Paper mache dream balloon.
Although Omnium Gatherum makes concessions to many of the styles the band has tried over the past 10 years – camp, outrageous thrash metal on “Gaia” and “Predator X”, exhilarating endurance work on the 18-minute opener “The Dripping Tap ‘, hallucinatory jazz on ‘Red Smoke’ – its most interesting vignettes find Mackenzie and co – notably Cook Craig and Joey Walker, co-writers of many of the best songs here – leaning into melodic pop experiments more than ever.
Mackenzie preface Omnium Gatherumstating that this is the start of King Gizzard’s “jammy period”, and while this is sometimes true in a traditional sense – “The Dripping Tap” is one of the most ambitious and most ridiculous the band has ever undertaken – it’s also kind of a sham. These songs are often jams in the same way some dance tracks might be described as jams: songs you can rock and dance to, rather than mosh to. This seems to be a tacit acknowledgment that while King Gizzard has often chosen to take the densest conceptual route possible with his music, they are also supernaturally talented pop songwriters prone to imbuing their songs with melodies. brutally catchy. On Omnium Gatherum these melodies have room to breathe. The result is King Gizzard’s first album in a long time that possesses something close to mass appeal.
Not that mass appeal should be — or necessarily is — a goal. But it’s a rare pleasure to hear this band make such simply enjoyable music. They lock themselves into a lush, sunny boom-bap rhythm on the dazed “Kepler-22b”, a song about the search for salvation on another habitable planet that plays like a happy inversion of Infest the rats’ nests apocalyptic “Planet B”.
‘Evilest Man’ Begins With The Kind Of Chaotic Psychic Panic The Band Perfected On Infinite Nonagon, before sliding into a skipping pop à la ELO. The lyrics, on Murdoch’s Press Empire – Rupert is the titular man – are vintage Mackenzie, but it’s a welcome change of pace to hear a King Gizzard song so lively in its disastrous saying, “I have no choice but to ignore the voices in the paper,” he sings. “I feel so sad about what I see / Misinformation around me.
It’s a paranoid, downright depressing song that still manages to find humor in its own paranoia:
We are in his conservative lair
I wonder if he knows this song…
Probably read before it was done
He probably hacked my phone
That Omnium Gatherum isn’t defined by an overarching concept means there’s plenty of room for intriguing, often grand, diversions. “Sadie Sorceress” and “The Grim Reaper” are two surprisingly good rap songs, gizzified homages to the Beastie Boys. Paul’s shop which showcase Ambrose Kenny-Smith’s skills as an MC, and “Candles” sees Mackenzie put her own spin on pop’s yé-yé style. Aside from “Evilest Man”, Omnium Gatherum largely represents a step up from the politically charged lyricism of King Gizzard’s recent releases, but thematically it’s a change that makes sense – it feels like letting off steam after a growing series of albums gloomy ones that showed a rapidly diminishing faith in modern society.
There are flashes of the more personal songwriting that characterized last year Butterfly 3000. “Presumptuous”, with its references to “kindred spirits at a crossroads” and someone “featherless, trembling in defence”, seems to allude to the band’s supposedly acrimonious split from its former manager and label Flightless Records. .
But for the most part, this is an album marked by grace and ease, a sense of fun and experimentation that bodes well for the band’s next decade. Twenty albums in, Omnium Gatherum suggests there’s still plenty of map to be drawn for King Gizzard.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 23, 2022 under the headline “Lizard Brain”.
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