King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard: Quarters! review – mind-altering musical patterns

One ridiculously cuddly melody follows another in the Melbourne band’s sixth album, which sits at the neon intersection of DIY psych and 1960s beach pop

My nine-year-old played a magic trick on me this morning. He asked me to think of a four-digit number and tell it to him. He then wrote down a number on a sealed piece of paper and asked me to tell him three more. He then (without doing any calculations) wrote down another number and asked me to open the sealed paper. On it was the number he’d written down.

Two days ago, my five-year-old told me a great visual joke. “Here’s Froggy [lays hand flat]. Froggy can swim [moves hand down] Froggy can fly [moves hand up] Froggy can walk [moves hand along]. Give a hand of applause to Froggy [claps hands together] ... Oh! Froggy dead!”

Somewhere near the heart of this magic and humour lies the appeal of Quarters! and its beautiful sprawling final track, Lonely Sheet Steel Flyer. On an album of four quarters, each precisely 10 minutes 10 seconds long, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard unravel mysteries, perform magic, tease melodies out of intricately formed musical patterns and do it all with a face that would be straight except it’s taken too many mind-altering substances.

On the third track, the meowing, cock-crowing and beckoning laid-back psych jam, Infinite Rise, the prolific Melbourne group make creating music sound so uncomplicated you can almost hear the workings. Yet it does not matter.

King Gizzard have released six albums since September 2012, running the gamut from space rock to quirky psych-jazz to loose and trippy freak-outs to beach pop to spaghetti western. And in among the blissed-out wig-outs of Quarters they settle in to what could be their most intoxicating sound yet.

If the band recall post-Gong experimental proto punk-hippy 1970s band Here and Now – the propulsive guitar lines, the nonsensical lyrics – that’s probably more an indication of my age than any actual influence. (KG&LW are far more Arthur Brown anyway.)

Here’s what 2013 was like in the Lizard Wizard world.

The gimmicky Vegemite was their Ween/Flaming Lips moment – a jaunty yet disturbing little song that could have feasibly pitched them hurtling towards the mainstream. Fortunately it didn’t, otherwise we might have had to suffer the unedifying spectacle of watching them turn into REM.

The more alarming yet oddly Disney-esque Satan Speeds Up spawned a video that could be have been used by teachers to warn against the dangers of acid. Hot Wax was their cuddly psychotic pop one that recalled the Harry Potter-style mystic experimentation of rock talisman Super Furry Animals. And Head On/Pill was a 16-minute mind-blaster of epic trip, I mean track, that evoked the scorched psychedelic intensity of the UK’s Hookworms. High praise indeed.

The critics went dolly. I mean, doo-lally.

Recorded in the midst of a brain-warping world tour, Quarters is far more regulated and (paradoxically) looser than most of the above. Turn the tape reel, and turn it off after 10.10. The wonderfully melodic and playful God Is in the Rhythm (there is a condensed four-minute version here, though why anyone would want to truncate the experience is beyond me) recalls some of McCartney’s more playful and wonderfully melodic moments post-Beatles.

One ridiculously cuddly melody follows another. One guitar lick reaching for Nepal follows another. The music is plaintive, yearning and trippy (of course). A tinny keyboard hums happily to itself behind falsetto vocals and descending guitar arpeggios. It’s a little MGMT – at the rainy neon intersection where DIY homemade psychedelia meets 1960s beach pop.

I really want to give this album five stars, but am so disturbed by the way the perky yet repetitive guitar line in The River is clearly influenced by the Dave Brubeck Quartet jazz standard Take 5, I cannot. Take 5 haunted my 1980s thanks to a trombone-playing flatmate who insisted on playing it over and over and over. So for me, Quarters is not so much an album of two halves, as three-quarters.

  • Quarters! is out now on Flightless/Remote Control


Everett True

The GuardianTramp

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