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Tuesday, June 25, 2024
The Observer

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s ‘Changes’: Yet another idea

“We wanted to see how far we could take a single idea.”

The words that introduced King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s 23rd studio album are some of frontman Stu Mackenzie’s most profound and, arguably, self-exposing. 

The concept of distance surrounds so much of the band’s work; their prolificacy is only one facet of it. Their first two albums circled the genres of surf and garage rock but took a sharp turn with the far more psychedelic, spoken-word involved third album, “Eyes Like the Sky.” For the next several years, it would expand its sound, trying its hand at various genres, specifically jazz fusion, rock and folk.

What would become the defining experiment for King Gizzard, however, would not arrive until 2017. They promised to release five studio albums that year, a feat almost unheard of for the average band, and held fast to its word. After that challenge, the band became most known for their constant output: two albums in 2019, one in 2020, two in 2021 and now five already in 2022. 

The newest release, therefore, does not exist as an island, even one of astroturf. I felt some of the psychedelics of previous albums reverberating through “Changes.” Still, compared to those previous albums and the plethora of others this will no doubt be compared to — “Nonagon Infinity” and “Flying Microtonal Banana,” certainly — something about “Changes” seems unusually toned down. 

To begin with the opener, the nearly titular “Change” packs relatively few punches. No stranger to the long song, the band here opts to stretch “Change” to a robust 13:03. Even within the song, various genres are explored at length, and the melody teases tastes of styles to come. “Change” operates as the starting loop to the whole album, oscillating abruptly as if to say that “Changes” will not be one thing; there is that all-important “s” that conveys a plurality of form for every piece. 

The second track of the album is also its lead single: “Hate Dancin’.” It is significantly catchier than “Change” from the get-go, adding drums and lyrics to the synth opener within a minute. The chorus claims something about the singer “hating dancin’,” an ironic claim considering the very danceable nature of the song. By the end, the band “feels like dancin’,” and so does the listener, enveloped in the carefully crafted yet carefree synth beats that pepper the song with the most upbeat of elements. 

Though the whole album was professed by the band to exchange simply between the keys D and F# major, “Astroturf” remained distinctly different in sound from the other five songs. I was delighted to hear an amazing instrumental emphasis in the song that was lost to me on most of the others. Saxophones break up dissonant sound, lending warmth and depth to equally compelling lyrics. During the jazz flute solo following the lyric, “Six butterflies fluttered by, looking horrified,” the flute too flutters forth, those flutters and trills forming a captivating extended technique.

If “Changes” stands out in any way as a 23rd album, it’s the maturity of the idea that King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard stretched to its limits. On a modern psychedelic rock (at times) album, the band finds a consistent and thoughtful sound that refuses to conform while still remaining accessible. Among its siblings, “Changes” isn’t anything over-the-top, but it still performs with the reverence and experimentation that listeners of King Gizzard look for. Even if the idea leads here, to an understated and largely unoriginal album, it’s still as beautiful as everything the band has done.  

Artist: King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard

Album: “Changes” 

Label: Flightless Records

Favorite tracks: “I Hate Dancin’,” “Astroturf”

If you like: Neutral Milk Hotel, Mild High Club

Shamrocks: 3.5 out of 5

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