Music Reviews

Album Review: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Sketches of Brunswick East

Emerging from the smouldering, eldritch ruins of King Gizzard’s Murder of the Universe, the Aussie psych-powerhouse’s third album of 2017 beckons the listener into an entirely different experience. While King Giz are no strangers to variety, the sonic transition between their last three albums and Brunswick East is like stepping out of a furnace into a jazz-honey jacuzzi. Stepping away from bestial drumbeats and chugging guitars, King Gizzard offer us the melodic subtlety hinted at in 2015’s folk-inspired Paper Mache Dream Balloon, infused with collaborator Mild High Club’s dreamy synths and jazz sensibilities.

The album opens with ‘Sketches of Brunswick East I’, an instrumental piece that stirs the film-noir New York detective within. It features sensual bass and flute, interweaving and delivering a sense of mystery that underlies the entire album. Its sister pieces, ‘II’ and ‘III’, build on this mood, with ‘II’ slowing things to a dreamy, free-form crawl, and ‘III’ bringing hypnagogic guitars and phased drums.

‘Countdown’ offers evasive time signatures, strained vocals – matching the bleak, decrepit imagery of the lyrics – and a gooey guitar solo which cascades from left to right and tumbles into a screeching climax.

“The instrumentation is of radiant warmth and the vocals possess a strangely syrupy quality.”

‘D-Day’ reintroduces King Gizzard’s microtonal abilities, and features unsettling train-horn woodwinds, tailed by densely-textured soundbites of a bustling city street.

An enigmatic flute guides us into ‘Tezeta’, where Gizz tackle the rhythms of the waltz, before kicking in with a hi-hat-driven beat which becomes tattooed into our brains by the tribal chanting of “Te-ze-ta”. The sinister verse tiptoes via ascending vocal harmonies into a blissful chorus which plays around with melodies you’d expect to hear on a Glenn Miller record. The bass guitar is given a prominence in this record which hasn’t been seen in much of Gizz’s previous work – a welcome development.

‘Cranes, Planes and Migraines’ carries us on a hyperactive bassline through an eerie urban alley of flutes, distorted city-sound-effects and puzzling synths.

The sixth track, ‘Spider and Me’, is constructed of sunny, playful lyrics and a beat which could have been lifted straight from Tame Impala’s ‘The Moment’. The instrumentation is of radiant warmth and the vocals possess a strangely syrupy quality. This is King Gizz at their zaniest (which is really saying something), producing marshmallow-y jazz-pop which is at times reminiscent of the Beatles.

“The album’s persistent sunniness makes it a great listen for the hazy afternoons of the fast-dissipating summer”

‘Dusk to Dawn’ provides a melancholy, transitional respite before we are hit with ‘The Book’, which features unrepentantly catchy keyboard melodies, with comically villainous vocals, and feels like an evil, microtonal companion to Giz’s ‘The River’. ‘A Journey to S(Hell)’ possesses a psychotic energy which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Pond album, and ‘Rolling Stoned’ offers lounge-music for the millennial gig-fiend – combining porno wah-guitars and basslines with Flaming Lips-style synth voicings and Mackenzie’s laidback flute-sorcery. ‘You Can Be Your Silhouette’ delves deep into Latin swagger, but lacks the melodic excitement of the album’s stronger tracks.

For those puzzled or intimidated by the visceral explosivity of their other recent releases, King Gizzard offer a complete juxtaposition with Sketches. The album is far more palatable, and is enriched with a great deal more melody-driven catchiness. The album’s persistent sunniness makes it a great listen for the hazy afternoons of the fast-dissipating summer, and is certainly worth a listen for those who wish to be musically stimulated by one of Australia’s most wonderfully bizarre bands.

The few shortcomings of this album come with the abruptness of certain songs, with their briefness contributing to an occasionally rushed feeling. Perhaps aiming to release five albums in a single year has its cost – but here’s hoping for two more of the same quality as this.

Max Randall

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Image Courtesy of Jamie Wdziekonski via The Guardian Music Online.

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