Australian septet King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard might be the most unlikely music-biz success story of this decade. Burdened with a goofy, internal-rhyme-laden handle and a style of rock geared for society's marginalized psychedelic and progressive tribes, they've accrued shocking mindshare in a time of dwindling attention spans and EDM/trap-rap hegemony. How did these Down Under maniacs get over in the United States in the 2010s, a time of airwave conservatism and mass aversion to rock? And how did Dave Matthews's label, ATO, not exactly a bastion of risk-taking, come to champion them?
It's a bit of a mystery, mate. In most times, King Gizzard would have been consigned to the cultish jam-band circuit and may have grabbed an off-peak time slot at Bonnaroo. Seeing King Gizzard incinerate the small basement club Barboza in 2014 with a set of songs in the key of "transcendental delirium" convinced me that these blokes were an unnatural force of nature. But poised for popularity? No. Their energy, inventiveness, and capacity for warped tones seemed too out-there for the gatekeepers and the masses. Now they're playing the Neptune.
Given how productive King Gizzard are, it's impossible to elucidate all of their glories in this tight space. So let's just skim some highlights off the cream of their bounteous crop. Among their early works, Willoughby's Beach (2011) and Float Along – Fill Your Lungs (2013) established King Gizzard's predilection for pedal-to-the-metal psych rock that zooms neck and neck with Oh Sees for manic intensity and sheer fuck-the-world escapism. Surprisingly, enough kids are into shredding guitars and hyperkinetic tempos to make this a viable career.
For me, things really took off with I'm in Your Mind Fuzz (2014). Its freewheeling, demonically propulsive gestalt makes it seem like one album-long thriller-chase-scene score, with all the exhausting and exhilarating drama that that implies. But hold up: Late in the record, "Satan Speeds Up" floats in on a cotton-candy cloud and drizzles lysergic rain just when you needed to cool off. It's the gold standard of dreamy songs, of which we currently have a superabundance.
Lest you think you can pigeonhole King Gizzard, other releases in their burgeoning catalog suggest otherwise. Paper Mâché Dream Balloon (2015) bestows helium-light folk-pop with faint psychedelic glazing, while Quarters!—all of whose tracks run for 10 minutes—explores King Gizzard's mellower, more sentimental side. It also includes a song that extrapolates on Dave Brubeck's 1959 jazz standard "Take Five." Nonagon Infinity (2016) is a speeding chuggathon that's too overwhelming for most to absorb in its entirety. Think Golden Earring's "Radar Love" or CAN's "Mother Sky" accelerated for 21st-century purposes.
The thing about King Gizzard is, their music is so galvanizing and disorienting that their lyrics fade into insignificance—to me, anyway. Leader Stu Mackenzie could be singing about the mating rituals of kangaroos or the taste of Saturn's rings, and it wouldn't really matter. Music this spectacular makes words superfluous. And in today's staid rock ecosphere, that's a remarkable feat.
Now about that name...