King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are a band celebrated as much for a constant willingness to experiment as for their prolificness, and ability to package their varied musical experiments into coherent and distinctive albums. They hit a creative peak in 2017, when they seemingly attempted to release as many albums as their name has syllables (well nearly – they managed five).
I joined them at Sketches of Brunswick East, a collaboration with fellow psychedelic outfit, Mild High Club. Named in homage to Miles Davis’, Sketches of Spain (Brunswick East being the Melbourne neighbourhood where the band’s studio is situated), that album was a departure from their usual guitar-heavy psyche-rock garage-band full-frontal assault, instead meandering effortlessly through acid jazz, folk, soft-rock, and various other psychedelic avenues in a way that reminds me, among other things, of Aja by Steely Dan.
Although Paper Mâché Dream Balloon is the work of the ‘Gizzard alone, it feels like a fitting precursor to Sketches. There is none of the overdriven guitar distortion and friction of 2016’s frantic Nonagon Infinity. Everything is smooth smooth smooth and all throughout the mood feels peppy and jolly. But linger a little longer, listen closer to the lyrics and everything is not as the faux-twee pastoral scene of the cover art would have you believe.
Opening track, Sense feels like a lamentation of society’s careless attitude to the natural environment: ‘the mother taking care of us’. The easy-listening production and breezy vibe of the tune are diametrically opposed to the resigned lyrics: ‘But in fact it’s a pattern, everything I hear will always make me ashen’.
Next up on Bone, the jaunty flute and warm acoustic guitar could have you visualising the first wave of British psychedelia in the late 1960s and scenes of cheerful folk wearing white linen and dancing in a flowery meadow. But much like the sinister underbelly concealed beneath the beatific smiles of the villagers on Summerisle, the lyrics tell a different story: ‘Hands and toes, feet and head, Carrion to be fed, Any dog can chew over my bone, And all my wine’s gonna turn into blood, When my name is called, I’m just a pile of bone.’ Maybe it’s a musing on our ultimate fate when we die: or at least our ultimate nature when all’s said and done: flesh and bone.
On the title track, it seems we’ve reached the heart of the darkness of the album – which to me is feeling more and more like the recounting of the various stages of an existential crisis/psychotic breakdown. Although it sounds lovely to be ‘stuck in a daydream, under a moonbeam’ as frontman Stu Mackenzie sings, backed again by cheerful flutes, all isn’t well: ‘Are you eluding that I am brooding? Moping around on my own…Head on my pillow at home’. When trouble comes, the solution seems to be to stick it to a dream balloon and kick it out the door, but like anyone suffering repressed anxiety, he can’t seem to help hiding it in his drawer instead.
Trapdoor at least is overt in its warning of imminent jeopardy, and the lyrics hammer home the threat: ‘And everybody knows what’s under the door, And everybody goes to great lengths for sure, To hide themselves away, And keep the beast at bay’. But is the ambiguity of the lyrics actually a Freudian slip that reveals who the real beast is, of whom we should be afraid? Are we the beast hidden under the trapdoor?
Maybe a break-up is the cause of our protagonist’s personal crisis, as on Cold Cadaver he laments ‘This can’t be over’, seemingly likening a failed relationship to a corpse (hey – we’ve all been there). The theme continues on The Bitter Boogie, which seems to fit the aftermath of a break-up: “I really hate the way it messes my mind up, And all it makes me say, I know it comes off bitter.” As with all the tracks on this album, the production and arrangements are at complete juxtaposition to the lyrical content. The Bitter Boogie has an irresistible psychedelic blues-y groove, Time=Fate is woven from the same Paisley cloth as much of the first half of the album and comes across similar to fellow musical chameleons, Of Montreal – another act adept at marrying darkly complex lyrical themes with sprightly psychedelic pop and faithfully reconstructed retro production.
Album closer, Paper Mache is a short instrumental piece in much the same vein as the rest of the record, with the flute taking the lead. Maybe I’ve just listened to this too much in a short space of time, but I could swear it incorporates melodies from several (if not all) of the album tracks as it winds to a close, like a short highlights reel at the end of the show. The album is finally closed by a sequence of high-pitched noises which sounds like it could be one of the previous tracks pitched up a few notches and played backwards. I don’t know if there’s any hidden messages to be found in that, if so I’ll leave it Reddit.
Nearly all the tracks on Paper Mâché Dream Balloon clock in at under three minutes, so the whole album is barely longer than half an hour – so you could say ‘short and sweet’. And when I was first listening to it, I found the jauntiness and jolliness and the folksy production maybe a bit too sweet. But once the irrestibly catchy tunes got their hooks in me, and the sense of the lyrics came to the fore, the sweetness melted away: leaving an album of beautifully woven psychedelic pop with much going on beneath the surface.