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Album review: King Gizzard is less intense but still impressive on latest LP

It wasn't that long ago that King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard was just an up-and-coming band with a preposterously dumb name. As 2017 has unfurled, they've moved into another category altogether. Now, they're much-loved, much obsessed-over indie-prog heroes on a creative tear that few ever attempt, let alone match.

At the top of 2017, the group informally announced their new-at-the-time record would be the first of five they planned to release during the year, and, thus far, they've made good on four-fifths of that promise. There was February's experiment with melding their standard sound with non-Western scales ("Flying Microtonal Banana"), June's experiment with melding their standard sound with robotic spoken-word passages ("Murder of the Universe"), August's collaborative album with the jazzy Mild High Club ("Sketches of Brunswick East") that didn't really sound anything like them, and, now, a highly progressive, laid-back version of themselves that tones down the intensity but amps up the band's nerdy love for odd time signatures and polyrhythms. "Polygondwanaland" is the latest missive from the Gizz, and it's an admirable piece of work, but one that is lacking a lot of the group's formerly off-the-charts energy.

That energy has always been one of the group's defining characteristics, even though periodic abandonment of that characteristic has also been one of their defining characteristics. In the past, the band has dropped hippy-dippy acoustic records ("Paper Mache Dream Balloon") and lo-fi, low-key experimental recordings ("Quarters!"), so their tendency to subvert expectations has to be considered something their fans can expect.

The group is most interesting, though, when they're barreling down the road at 100 miles per hour, with their two drummers going wild, a distorted harmonica honking, and the guitars and bass compete to keep up with each other while leader Stu Mackenzie hoots and whoops like a maniac. This isn't to say that their other modes aren't compelling, however, and "Polygondwanaland" is a good example of that.

The record is largely without garage-punk flair, but it's a truly impressive work in its own right. The 10-minute opener "Crumbling Castle" is downright jazzy and packed with rhythmic elements that bounce gently off of each other while Mackenzie sings quietly. The song has its intense moments, particularly at the end, when a distorted, doomy riff takes over.

The 5/4-time title track is led by a glassy bassline and Mackenzie's dreamy vocals. Later on, when the flute comes in, things get positively Jethro Tull. "The Castle in the Air" leans on spiraling acoustic guitar lines and atmospheric synths and electronics, all of it pinned down by the insistent tick-tock of the drums.

The album is not a collection of individual songs in the traditional fashion. As King Gizzard has done in the past, the record is comprised of pieces of music that seem to grow out of each other and then double back and return again, slightly altered. The group seems to approach its records as works with sections and movements, and "Polygondwanaland" is perhaps its most focused attempt at putting something together that works best taken in as one big whole.

It's droney, it's jazzy, it's rocky, it's hypnotic. Some folks on the internet have noted it shares some traits with the band Tool's more pensive side, and that's not incredibly far off-base, although there's something more organic and less macho about their particular brand of King Crimson homages.

"Polygondwanaland" isn't the best King Gizzard album ("Nonagon Infinity" still runs away with that title), but it's another strong entry in their discography, and it's one that Gizz fans will likely find easy to disappear into.

Artist: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

Album: "Polygondwanaland"

Produced by: Stu Mackenzie


Personnel: Stu Mackenzie (vocals, guitar, etc.), Michael Cavanagh (drums, percussion), Cook Craig (guitar, synth), Ambrose Kenny-Smith (harmonica), Lucas Skinner (bass), Joey Walker (guitar)

Listen to the album at