King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard never fail to surprise.
Even before their almost impossibly productive 2017, they were renowned for their superhuman work ethic, genre-hopping tendencies, and unmissable live shows. Add the 5 albums of last year into the mix and you’re left with 13 full-length records containing everything from jazz to psychedelic rock to prog and back again, a truly unique discography befitting of a truly unique band.
But this year they’re taking a break from recording, so it seems like a good time to take stock. That’s right, today we will be ranking (see: attempt to) the top 10 songs from Melbourne’s finest. This has been a tough task, but please, sit back, relax, and get ready to be slightly irritated that your favourite didn’t make it.
10. The River
With each of its 4 tracks clocking in at exactly 10 minutes and 10 seconds in length, 2015’s Quarters is a bit of a mixed bag. Half of the album feels like padding to reach the necessary track lengths, full of endless jamming around ideas that would have been better served as much shorter songs. The same cannot be said for its opener though, that being the hazy bliss of The River. Gizzard have ventured into jazzy territory a couple of times, but this track is undoubtedly the greatest of those experiments.
The combination of the 5/4 time signature and production that has the band sounding as if they’re playing through thick smoke is a winning one, lending the track a lo-fi ambiance that’s as catchy as it is intoxicating. Spiraling riffs eventually ebb and flow towards a climactic and potent time signature shift, welcoming in slinky reworked versions of the main guitar lines that cement this as a stone cold classic.
9. Crumbling Castle
This one knocked about in various forms before it’s final incarnation appeared on last year’s Polygondwanaland as its opening track. First, there was a short, 3-minute version played live a few times, then a leaked instrumental demo recording, and finally the proggy behemoth that takes the number 9 spot on this list. The whole 11 minutes are essentially just the band flexing every muscle they have, and it works to awe-inspiring effect.
The main vocals and lyrics are fairly standard, but it’s the instrumentation that really lifts this track. The intricacy of the interlocking guitar parts is pretty much unparalleled in their discography, combining with bubbling synths to create an almost overwhelming experience. Add in some chant-like sections and a ferociously heavy epilogue, and you’ve got an album opener for the ages.
8. The Lord of Lightning
Murder of the Universe is a pretty polarising album. Some love the overtly mystical themes and the narration, but many dismiss it as a self-indulgent misfire lacking in any real substance. There is one thing that most agree on though, and that’s the fact that The Lord of Lightning goes hard. The ominous riff that hangs over the entire song combines with the propulsive drums and frequent freakouts to leave the track feeling like it’s going to blow apart at any moment.
And then it does! Towards the end, off the back of a signature Stu Mackenzie yowl, the guitars grind down to a sludgy crawl, transforming the song into something infinitely more intimidating. It’s perhaps the finest individual moment on any Gizzard record, and more than its earns the song its place on this list.
Paper Mache Dream Balloon is a bit of an outlier, with the manic, conceptual ambition of most releases absent in favour of a breezy psychedelic pop approach. This big a change in sound could have been a disaster, but thankfully it resulted in both an album that still stands as a high point of the band’s career, and yet another stellar opening track. Sense is a relatively simple song, with a repetitive acoustic guitar providing the backing for some sumptuous clarinet, but it’s this simplicity that gives it its charm.
Mackenzie drops his usual staccato delivery in favour of a delicate vocal that floats over the song instead of dictating its direction. The result is a short but instantly memorable track that more than matches up to its flashier, louder siblings.
6. The Bitter Boogie
While Sense, and most of the rest of PMDB, sound as if they were written specifically to be sung around a campfire in the middle of a commune, The Bitter Boogie wouldn’t sound out of place on a western soundtrack. The guitars and harmonica lean heavily on blues influences, while the looping bass and repeating vocal of ‘bitter bitter bitter bitter bitter…’ mixes in a more psychedelic edge.
These elements create a swirling, almost hypnotic groove that’s fantastic even by itself, but towards the end of the track, the vocals of Ambrose Kenny-Smith come in and lift things to another level. His abrasive, almost sleazy style dials the blues up to 11 and the whole thing instantly clicks, with his absence from the rest of the song only serving to heighten the satisfaction when he eventually arrives. The result is an often overlooked classic that only misses out on the top 5 by a hair.
5. Sleep Drifter
Top 5 time! That’s right we’ve reached the big time, and what better way to enter the final straight than with the finest cut from the 2017 microtonal masterpiece Flying Microtonal Banana? Seemingly inspired by a piece entitled Kara Toprak by Turkish poet Asik Veysel, Sleep Drifter showcases the band at their most confident and musically accomplished. Fittingly, the track floats along like a lullaby, with simple, childlike lyrics, ‘I can see you next to me / And it is lovely’ acting as the perfect accompaniment to the gentle yet groovy guitar melodies. The microtones keep you from drifting off though, keeping things intriguingly offbeat and adding in a distinctive and unique flavour that pushes this one into the realm of greatness.
4. Am I In Heaven?
Until it was usurped by Nonagon Infinity, I’m In Your Mind Fuzz was the best example of King Gizzard’s signature brand of frantic, tightly wound psychedelia. Despite opening with a deceptively chilled acoustic section, it’s best track, Am I In Heaven, soon descends into beautiful madness. The Aussies have never again sounded this jacked up, with the rhythm section and guitars galloping along at a thousand miles an hour creating a disorientating wall of noise in the process. Mackenzie’s vocals sit distorted in the mix, screaming nonsense and employing his signature ‘WOOOOOOOOOO’ to electrifying effect. By the time the chorus rolls around he sounds 50 ft. tall, as the chords rise with him. This is perhaps the best example of the band just throwing everything they have at a song and just seeing what happens, and it’s fucking glorious.
3. Head On/Pill
Great debate rages over which album of the 13 is the best. There’s no definitive answer of course, but at the same time, it’s definitely Float Along-Fill Your Lungs. The band’s third record is the most psychedelic they have ever produced, featuring sitars, trippy lyrical imagery and some beautiful kaleidoscopic artwork. The recent vinyl reissue of the album called its opener the ‘Gizzhead national anthem’, and a description has never been so apt.
Whenever this song starts appearing on setlists, fans across the world start talking in hushed tones on internet forums about the possibility of the band playing it when they come to their city, and its not hard to see why. From the euphoric twang of the opening riff through the wild, shimmering ride of the next 16 minutes, this is a song good enough to get you hooked on Gizzard forever. For such a long song, its remarkably catchy, and although it can get repetitive, you soon lose count of the endless cries of ‘PILL’ and just get lost in the psychedelic soup.
2. Robot Stop
As the opening/closing/anywhere in between song on the infinitely looping masterpiece Nonagon Infinity, Robot Stop never fails to get the loudest cheer when played live. It packs in enough ideas to fill an entire album, and even features the return of a motif from I’m In Your Mind Fuzz’ Hot Water, a moment that somehow feels like a natural fit instead of a cheap trick.
It’s got a totally unique energy befitting of its punk-style pacing, bursting out of the traps and quite literally never letting up. But for a track of this rapid a pace, it packs one hell of a melodic wallop, and as far as riffs and solos go this song is an absolute embarrassment of riches, with them all piling up on one another before cascading seamlessly into Big Fig Wasp.
It may well be the band’s defining song, but it’s not quite their best…
1. Float Along-Fill Your Lungs
So here we are, at the summit of Mount Gizzard. It’s been tough whittling down 13 albums to just 10 songs, but there was never really too much doubt about what sits at the top of the pile. The title track from Float Along-Fill Your Lungs isn’t just the band’s greatest song, it’s one of the best psychedelic rock tracks of the last 10 years, and yes you can quote us on that.
The central mantra of, ’Just float along, and fill your lungs / Just float along, and breathe a deep breath’, doesn’t just function as an appropriately hippy-sounding refrain, it encapsulates the vibe of this entire genre of music and of the band themselves. Mackenzie repeats it over a soundscape alive with a million colours, with guitars exploding and reversing back again amidst throbbing synth gurgles; it couldn’t fit together any better.
The result is something that’s somehow both relaxing and thrilling at the same time, with multiple listens revealing new melodies hidden under the layers upon layers of shimmer. Who knows if they’ll ever top it, and we suspect we’ll see them try soon enough, but until then, stay safe, and remember: rattlesnake, rattlesnake, rattlesnake… – Rory McArthur (@rorymeep)