The Australian psychedelic rock outfit King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard have had a ridiculously productive year. While they’ve always been on the grind, having released at least one new album a year since 2012, 2017 has seen the group attempting a massive 5-album release slate: an absolutely insane undertaking for sure, but it seems like they may make it at this rate. What’s most fascinating is how each of these releases has managed to maintain a unique identity, instead of the band just releasing 5 samey releases and calling it a day. Flying Microtonal Banana was a daring theory exercise delving into microtonal intervals/tuning, Murder of the Universe (my introduction to the band) feels like it was made on a dare to craft the most lyrically vile and obscene album outside of the death metal genre (it’s damn great, by the way), and Sketches of Brunswick East was a solid detour into jazz music courtesy of assistance from the Mild High Club. Now we’re at album number four, and with Polygondwanaland, the group is experimenting in a sort of different way. They’ve released the album not just for free, but also put it out as a public domain work, with *anyone* free to print physical copies, distribute it, and make money off the album if they so choose. Certainly an interesting attempt to play around with the nature of musical ownership, but how does it fare as an album?
The album is a 44-minute affair, and 1/4th of that runtime is taken up by the monstrously lengthy opener, “Crumbling Castle.” Right off the bat, you’re taken for a musical trip as the rhythms shuffle between lengthy off-kilter passages of 5/8 and 7/8, loaded with smooth jammy lead guitar melodies and vocals that run the gamut between classic rock wails and low, throaty group chants. Interspersed within the rest of the mix are these very world-music-sounding flute melodies and a healthy dose of glass marimba, and some particularly intense blaring synthesizers fill out the rest of this behemoth quite nicely. In a way, it works excellently as a sort of foreshadowing for everything the listener is about to experience, and the song even closes with a slower minute-long outro that’s more in the vain of Black Sabbath than anything else.
While the opening track is a pretty hard-hitting psych-rock jam, a good chunk of songs on the album are somewhat lighter and ethereal, although certainly still saturated with compositional detail. The title track of the record has a cleaner guitar tone to it that, along with the enhanced presence of the flutes, adds an almost folk-like quality to the tune. This also goes for other cuts on the record like “Horology,” whose atmosphere is also fleshed out by a complicated syncopated drum rhythm as the bass remains locked in with the various switch-ups. The synthesizers here are also rather pronounced but still are balanced in a way that leaves room for the rest of the instrumentation.
Speaking of which, the synthesizer on this album gets put to excellent use throughout, whether it fleshes out the worldly feel of the more atmospheric tracks or blaring in the listeners’ ears during the more high-energy tunes. The previously mentioned opener as well as the album closer “The Fourth Color” use a more blaring set of synth tones that screech and howl like an acid trip gone wrong. Other songs have a saturated tone that seems more in line with the synth tones of a Zombi record, with tracks like “Desert Dunes Welcome Weary Feet” and “Horology” benefitting greatly from the sound in creating an off-kilter trippy headspace. They create this sense of other worldliness that clicks really well with many of the more tribal instrumentation throughout the album.
“Tetrachromacy” perhaps best demonstrates what the album goes for as a whole. There’s an unsettling polyrhythmic feeling as the drums play a sort of 3/8-time beat as an acoustic guitar melody plays along a more conventional 4/4 rhythm. Once the song gets to the chorus, the rhythms all eventually lock into each other while simultaneously moving along at a 6/4 beat, with light airy vocals and the addition of flutes in the end create an ethereal musical experience that makes you feel as though you’re floating above the world and are one with it. The last two tracks on the record, “Searching…” and “The Fourth Color,” work as a great 1-2 team to close things out. The former is primarily a percussion-heavy track with congas, marimbas, and a steady 4/4 beat to keep things driving, and this sets up the latter track rather well. Utilizing drum fills similar to “Deserted Dunes Welcome Weary Feet” but with a noticeably faster tempo, frontman Stu Mackenzie keeps the vocal rhythms simple and steady while still in line with the rest of the band, receiving strong accentuations from the bass. The closing segment of the song is a fast, punchy punk-like break with plenty of boisterous wailing like the shrieks of the damned to bring things full circle.
If there’s any point of contention here, however minor, it’s that for those who might prefer a more high-energy punk-like bombastic experience throughout, this album only really fulfills that in a few spots, mainly at the beginning and end. The album does have some driving tempos throughout, but the production and nature of the compositions are more focused on a “one with nature” type of atmosphere, filling out the mix appropriately. The albums works incredibly well in this regard thanks to the particularly strong focus on that concept, but I can see those who want something with more of an edge.
Polygondwanaland is a fantastic display of King Gizzard’s dynamic songwriting chops and penchant for always thinking outside of the box. The album is constantly throwing things at the wall with absolute confidence to see what’ll work, and quite a lot of it does. While there might be some who prefer a more aggressive hard-hitting approach where most of the tracks would sound like “Crumbling Castle,” the variety keeps things from bleeding into each other. The more tribal world music influences work great and makes sense with the theme of the release model: the band sounds as if they are one with the world around them, for they don’t own the album. No, Polygondwanaland is an album which belongs to the world and everyone within it.
Final Verdict: Download it. It may not be Murder of the Universe, but it’s a solid experiment in its own right, and who doesn’t like free music?
Polygondwanaland is available on all digital platforms everywhere, with physical releases from other labels coming soon. Check out King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard on Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, and their official website.