Australian progressive psych rock group King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is back with a new album for the fourth time this year and 12th time ever with their release ‘Polygondwanaland.’ They decided to release this album to the public domain, offering a wealth of files from the vinyl master to high quality wav files: “we do not own this record. You do. Go forth, share, enjoy.”
If you’re not already caught up with their other three albums that came out this year allow me to introduce you: Flying Microtonal Banana is the most energetic album of the bunch. It experiments with Turkish maqams, or scales, that involves tones that sit between the notes found on standard western scales. The second was Murder of the Universe: a narrative-focused album that was broken into three sections, each with a different theme. An oddball and an acquired taste, I found this album to take this narrative experiment a bit too far but I thoroughly enjoyed the less narrative-focused parts of the album such as The Balrog, Digital Black and Vomit Coffin. The third was a collaborative album with laid-back psych-pop group Mild High Club titled Sketches of Brunswick East: a record that has been described as “breezy elevator-jazz with kind of a dreamy twist” by Anthony Fantano of theneedledrop. This was by far the most docile record of the bunch; to this day I have not sat through it in its entirety without getting bored and listening to one of their better albums.
Speaking of their better albums, this brings us to the incredible, calculated, proggy, groovy adventure that is Polygondwanaland. This album turns back to the psych/garage influences most notably present on Flying Microtonal Banana and the folk rock roots from earlier albums such as Oddments, and combines them into a 43 minute work where all of the songs connect stylistically, thematically and compositionally, perhaps most like Nonagon Infinity. Polygondwanaland is less loud and fast-paced then Nonagon and Banana. This time, Gizz opts for a more flowy, trippy sound with wind instruments, confusing time signatures, twiddly acoustic guitars. This sonic journey is punctuated by their surreal lyrics that conjure up vivid images of the medieval castles, mountains, rivers and desert dunes that make up the mystical Polygondwanaland. “Gondwanaland” is an ancient supercontinent that existed hundreds of millions of years ago, just after Pangea started breaking apart, that contained South America, Africa, much of the middle east, India, Antarctica, and (of course) Australia. That said, I don’t necessarily think that this detail is important to enjoy the album.
We’re launched into Polygondwanaland with the 10 minute opening track “Crumbling Castle:” a track that traverses various time signatures, instruments and moods in a flowing manner while it sets up grooves that keep rolling for the rest of the album. Images of crumbling castles can be seen on Gizz’s past album covers such as I’m In Your Mind Fuzz, Nonagon Infinity and Murder of The Universe. The title track and the track following it are more relaxed than the opening song, with no distorted guitars and a heavy emphasis on wind instruments and acoustic guitar. Inner Cell shifts to a more rigid electronic feel that gets really 80s sounding by Loyalty which fades into a wall of guitar feedback and cultish chants. I could keep going, but you get the idea that with this album, King Gizz and the Liz Wizz have opened up their tonal pantry and selected the finest ingredients to generate a stew (a Stu?) of genres that changes flavors with every bite. They’ve already developed their unique sound on their past albums, but this year’s album series has definitely been an exploration of how far they can take it. It could be a gurgling synth, it could acoustic twiddles and woodwinds, but it’s always King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.
As for complaints, the last track is kind of weak. It does this weird fade out and back in for no real reason, only to restate musical ideas already expressed earlier in the album. It’s not unpleasant, it’s just unnecessary. Another small gripe I had with Poly was that because this album is so journey-oriented, and the focus is on the connections between songs, I found that individual tracks didn’t necessarily have as much of an impact on me. While I’ll throw on Sleep Drifter or Gamma Knife without listening to the albums that contain them in entirety, I don’t really do that with any cuts off this album. While that seems like a negative, in this case it’s more of an example that not all great albums need a single.
Ultimately this album is one of their strongest as a whole. Sonically, it’s an album only King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard could pull off. Even though I saw them live recently, this album is making me want to see them again.