The Gizzard Wizard
November 29, 2021
...is what my mother calls it. Admittedly, the name King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is a bit of a mouthful. Normally I'll mention it to someone and the obvious response is "what kind of name is that?" In all honesty, it's a great name, but I feel like it might be a bit of a turn off for some people, which is a shame. A little over a year ago, I started listening to said bizzare band, and they've since taken over my music taste. I decided to take a bit of time to write about them and what it is I enjoy so much about their music.
Yeah, that's bizzare
Paired with their odd name, the band is certainly bizzare as well. It's worth mentioning right off the bat that this band has released 18 studio albums and 10 live albums (at the time of writing) since their formation in 2010. That means there's an average of 1.6 albums released a year. Prolific, right?
More astoundingly, the band released 5 albums in the year of 2017. Five entire albums. The most surprising part is that each of them were significantly different than the last, and they were all absolute bangers.
I'd say the band certainly has a particular sound you can tie back to their name, but as far as genre goes, they've done everything from jazz fusion (Sketches of Brunswick East) to thrash metal (Infest the Rats Nest). But with all of this variety, where do you even start?
In this post, I'll take you on a trip showing you how I carved my way through the vast King Gizzard discography, including some of their live performances towards the end.
Entering the door
My introduction to Gizz started with their 2016 album, Nonagon Infinity, a fantastic psychedelic garage rock album composed of 9 songs that flow perfectly into one another, including the last into the first, creating this indefinite loop (Infinity) of nine tracks (Nonagon). One line you'll hear a lot throughout this album is
Nonagon Infinity opens the door!
And it did. For me, at least.
I quickly noticed an outrageously interesting component of their music after a few listens of Nonagon Infinity. Namely, it's worth mentioning the band's tendency to avoid traditional time signatures. You'll have a tough time finding a decent segment of a song in Nonagon Infinity that is in standard 4/4. The opening track Robot Stop has parts in 7/4, Gamma Knife in primarily 12/4 and 11/4, and of course Mr. Beat in pretty much exclusively 7/4 (as they're missing a beat [one less than 8/4, or 2 measures of 4/4]). This is a pattern that is absolutely not exclusive to Nonagon Infinity. In fact, it appears in pretty much every single piece of music they've released.
My favorite tracks off of this album are Gamma Knife, Invisible Face, and Wah Wah.
After settling into Nonagon Infinity and beginning to seek out more music to appreciate, I turned to Polygondwanaland. The name is a portmanteau of
polyrhythms (I would think) and
Gondwanaland, as this entire album is based around the concept of polyrhythms, that is having different instruments or components of the track playing in a different time than another. For example, you might hear a guitar riff being played in 7/4 while the percussion plays in 4/4. The track above, Crumbling Castle, is the opening track to this album. It might sit at a whopping 10 minutes and 45 seconds, but it's easily one of the best pieces Gizz has produced.
Polygondwanaland takes you on an adventure across the Gizzverse, a hypothetical universe that all of the King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard lore takes place in. This album and Nonagon Infinity both have strong implications on the universe. Read into the lyrics of tracks like Tetrachromacy and The Fourth Color for a glimpse into the Gizz lore, if you will.
At this point, you might have discerned a specific "style" the band abides by. Polygondwanaland and Nonagon Infinity share musical components for sure, such as instrumentation, odd time signatures, and that sort of thing they do where a guitar will play along with the vocals. Obviously, however, Polygondwanaland has a slightly different sound. But that's about where it ends.
My favorite tracks off of Polygondwanaland are Crumbling Castle, Inner Cell, Horology, and The Fourth Colour.
It's in Paper Mâché Dream Balloon that your idea of that gritty, confusingly timed style will start to fade a bit. Paper Mâché Dream Balloon is more folk-y, and is certainly not garage rock. The first track Sense is a great introduction track if you're looking to listen to some starter Gizz stuff.
While you might be able to classify the musical genre as something separate from the last two albums, this album certainly keeps the bizzare timing from the previous two albums, with tracks like Trapdoor sprinkling in some 2/4 measures after three 4/4 measures in the chorus.
My favorite tracks off of this album are Sense, Trapdoor, and The Bitter Boogie.
Perhaps at this point you've noticed that each album seems to play with a slightly new concept from the last, right? With Nonagon Infinity it was the bizzare-o time signatures and infinitely looping album. With Polygondwanaland it was the absurd number of polyrhythms. One of the most substantial musical concepts King Gizzard has toyed with is microtonality.
Standard western music uses a twelve-note scale, meaning from one octave to the next, there are twelve notes. For three of the King Gizzard albums, they decided to break this boundary and instead toy with twenty-four notes per octave, essentially placing intermediate notes in between each of the standard twelve notes.
Flying Microtonal Banana
The first few listens of microtonal music was a bit jarring for me. It definitely feels out of tune at first. It took some repeated listening to grow an immense appreciation for the work that went into this album; traditional guitars have just enough frets to play your standard scale; the band threw together microtonal guitars such as their Flying Microtonal Banana, which they ended up naming a microtonal album after.
This was the fourth album I listened to straight through from King Gizzard after my introduction. Without a doubt, this album took the longest to appreciate, and that's certainly because of the non-standard notes. Give it some time and you will realize how much of a masterpiece this album is. You'll be chanting rattlesnake by the end, I guarantee it.
My favorite tracks off of this album are Rattlesnake, Melting, Doom City, and Nuclear Fusion. Especially Melting.
KG, the first of the two two-lettered albums, was released a few months after I started listening to King Gizzard, so I jumped ahead to this one once it released. This is volume 2 in what the band calls "Explorations in Microtonal Tuning" (FMB being volume 1), so you can expect just as much bizzare tuning. I really enjoyed this album, and there are certainly some stand-out tracks from it.
My favorite tracks off of KG are Minimum Brain Size, Straws In The Wind, and Honey.
Released a few months after KG, LW is the second of the above mentioned two-lettered albums. It undoubtedly feels like a continuation of KG, being volume 3 of their microtonal albums. I'd say this is probably my least favorite of the three microtonal albums, but it's still without a doubt a fantastic album.
My favorite tracks off of LW are O.N.E., Ataraxia, and K.G.L.W.
The Cyborg That Just Wants To Vomit
Certainly the most lore-heavy album I can name is Murder of the Universe. This three-part album is full of spoken word passages and crazy continuations and plays on old pieces of music, especially a lot from Nonagon Infinity. You'll learn about characters from the universe like The Balrog, The Lord of Lightning, and Han-Tyumi, the cyborg that just wants to vomit. If you're looking to learn a little bit more about the universe, definitely give this album a listen. But don't go into it expecting a musical masterpiece.
My favorite tracks from this album are all of the Alter Me tracks, The Lord of Lightning, and Digital Black.
This absolutely magnificent album, Quarters!, is an album of four tracks (or four quarters, if you will), each clicking in at 10 minutes and 10 seconds. This album is certainly a must listen if you like any of King Gizzard's stuff.
I could write an entire post on the masterpiece of a track that is The River. This absolute jam is perfect to put on and just vibe to. There are multiple parts of the same leitmotif in varying tempos and time signatures, and a killer solo or two along the way.
That's not to diminish the quality of the other three quarters, though. They're all great as well. The River is just objectively the best. Just start the album and do whatever else it is you'd do when listening to music.
My favorite track from this album is The River. Could you tell?
This is another wonderful album, although more jazz-focused. They did this one with Mild High Club, and it's a terrific album the whole way through. I'd say this is another great competitor for that introduction-to-Gizz spot. There's a lot to take in in this album, and it all meshes together so well. This was also one of their albums they released in 2017, by the way, along with Polygondwanaland, Flying Microtonal Banana, Murder of the Universe, and one more I've yet to get to. They're all fantastic albums with their own fantastic ideas!
My favorite tracks from this album are Countdown, D-Day, Tezeta, and Rolling Stoned.
Beginner's Luck is on your side
Gumboot Soup is an awesome album! I really enjoyed listening to it a lot, and I'm surprised I hadn't sooner. This is certainly one of my favorite Gizz albums. There's something about this album that just feels more full and developed than some of their other albums.
There's something to be said about The Wheel, too. It's up there with Crumbling Castle, it's that good. I cannot get over this track and I'm not sure why.
My favorite tracks from this album are Beginner's Luck, Muddy Water, I'm Sleepin' In, and The Wheel.
Fishing for Fishies, don't make them happy, no
This album bears a lot of similarities to Gumboot Soup in my opinion. The lyrics in this album discuss everything from needlessly fishing (Fishing for Fishies) to plastic use (Plastic Boogie). You'll start to realize over time that a lot of King Gizzard lyrics focus themselves in on environmental issues, which I really appreciate.
My favorite tracks from Fishing for Fishies are Fishing for Fishies (obviously), Plastic Boogie, This Thing, and Acarine.
I've become a Butterfly
Their latest album (at the time of writing), Butterfly 3000, hones in more on the concept of synthesizers, and generally each song bases itself over a synth loop that modulates as the song progresses.
I want to point out that I think the three songs in order of Shanghai, Dreams, and Blue Morpho are fantastic. If you have to listen to any part of this album, I'd say start at Shanghai and finish at the end of Blue Morpho for a taste into the entire album. This is a really fantastic album!
My favorite tracks off of this album are Shanghai, Dreams, Blue Morpho, Interior People, and Black Hot Soup.
There is no Planet B
Well this was a jarring play. It took a few listens but Infest The Rats' Nest has done nothing but rise in my favorite albums of all time. I am not predisposed to any metal and I'm certainly not into metal of any kind. Starting off with Planet B, a track about reducing pollution and keeping our planet Earth intact, I slowly entered the rabbit hole that is Infest The Rats' Nest, a truly thrash metal album.
It sounds nothing like any of their past albums, but holy shit. This album is good. If you're invested, give it a few listens and it'll grow on you. The first half of the album deals with environmental issues on Earth, and the second hand deals with a group of rebels who are forced to migrate to the planet of Venus. It's just non stop head banging the whole way through. And don't even get me started on Superbug.
While the music videos for this album are bomb, there's even a game for the track Mars For The Rich. Play it here.
My favorite tracks from this album are Planet B, Mars For The Rich, Organ Farmer, Superbug, Perihelion, and Self-Immolate.
Yeah, there's more. I haven't included all of their albums here; I have only included the albums of theirs I am most familiar with, and in the order that I listened to them as I progressed through their discography. There's a lot to take in, and it's taken me over a year. But maybe by the end you'll agree with me as to why I think King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is an outstanding band.
One thing you'll notice about this band is their superb live performances. Check out some of their performances on KEXP, like The Wheel, or The River:
Once you've soaked in those, there's plenty more to be seen, especially with their live albums. Check out this performance of Work This Time off their album Oddments at the Ancienne-Belgique with one of the most legendary improvisational guitar solos I've ever heard:
I can't hunt down all of my favorite performances and list them here, so you'll have to do some exploring yourself. You'll notice however that their live performances are never worse than their studio recordings, and in many cases are flat out better.
I'm by no means a music critic, and I did nothing but praise the band here, so don't take me like one! I just wanted to take this post to express my appreciation for the effort and complexity that goes into their music. It's certainly a little niche, and you can't hook someone into the Gizzverse with just one track, but there's a lot to explore once you're in there.
So come on, Nonagon Infinity opens the door. All you have to do is step inside.