Review by John Bentley.

Earlier this year Stu Mackenzie of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard announced that the band would be releasing as many as five new albums this year. At the time this may have seemed a rash hostage-to-fortune statement, but it’s now August and their third album of 2017 has just appeared. So they may still be on-target for five. How can they make all these albums in a year? Well, beside the fact that KGATLW are very industrious in terms of work ethic, the answer may be that, as they obviously don’t want to get typecast in terms of genre and style, they work through all sorts of experimental ideas and collaborations and quickly move on. In the future any attempt to do a KGATLW ‘best of’ selection is going to be a very tricky job, given the sheer breath of styles the band have taken in.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Manchester Albert Hall

2017 started off with the ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’ album, a great piece of eastern-tinged guitar-based psychedelia and a clear successor to 2016’s successful ‘Nonagon Infinity’. Unpredictably this was followed by a very different beast, ‘Murder of the Universe’, a doom-laden conceptual sci-fi epic, with narration by a female voice and a cyborg, a work owing something to both Black Sabbath and Hawkwind.

So what were we to expect next? Well the unlikely answer is a jazz-influenced series of drifting improvised musical sketches, at times poppy, at times almost ambient. The album is a collaboration with Mild High Club, aka the Los Angeles-based tripster troupe led by Alex Brettin. Before working together the two bands formed a strong friendship touring throughout the USA, Europe, and Australia. It’s not clear from album credits who contributed what to the new album, but the mark of both bands is evident.

The danger of being unpredictable and constantly flipping styles is that fans are lost along the way if they are not into the band’s latest experiment. However, other fans may find it a welcome challenge to hear new and off-the-wall stuff and have their musical horizons stretched. This ever-changing approach has certainly worked for some artists, notably David Bowie. The new album was recorded at KGATLW’s East Brunswick studio, Melbourne, Australia and, to quote the band, “is impulsive music, sketches of time and place reworked and pieced together”. It was the result of listening to all sorts of music and sifting through ideas and it may also be a nod to Miles Davis’s ‘Sketches of Spain’.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Manchester Albert Hall

The album’s 13 tracks clock in at 37 minutes and include both instrumentals and songs. Some are brief and form bridges between longer numbers. Like KGATLW’s other recent albums, one track blends into the next, making it a continuous listening experience.  The opening title-track is a brief and breezy flute-led  instrumental, setting the album’s jazzy theme. Versions of the track are reprised twice more, with it concluding the album. Track 2, ‘Countdown’ is a laidback piece of dream pop, reminiscent of Connan Mockasin, and features Stu Mackenzie’s hushed vocals. Stylistically the album jumps around, with the next track, ‘D-Day’, taking us back to the guitar sound of ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’. The splendid ‘Tezeta’, meanwhile, has Latin influences while ‘You Can Be Your Silhouette’ is funky dream-soul reminiscent of Unknown Mortal Orchestra.

After one or two listens it’s clear there are some catchy, memorable songs of real substance like ‘Tezeta’. ‘The Spider and Me’ and ‘The Book’ are two further standouts. ‘Spider’ is a laidback jazzy song with a great melody and vocal. Eastern-sounding ‘The Book’ is a real treat and features more microtonal guitar, a cyborg-ish vocal and whirly keyboards and seems to recall ‘Mr Beat’ from ‘Nonagon Infinity’.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Manchester Albert Hall

So, in a year when a flurry of KGATLW albums are released, is ‘Sketches of Brunswick East’ worth adding to your collection or is it just an interesting band experiment which is worth a listen? While I started-off feeling sceptical, after a few listens I realised I was really enjoying the new work, which has a real hypnotic quality. At a time when the relevance of albums is in question, as listeners download individual tracks and use shuffle on their music devices, KGATLW have reaffirmed the importance of the album.  As with previous albums, much of the strength of ‘Sketches of Brunswick East’ derives from the band’s ability to blend a series of ideas / tracks together into a continuous and holistic listening experience. As such, listening to ‘Sketches of Brunswick East’ on shuffle or as individual tracks would make little sense. The work’s appeal also lies in its variety and the playing skills of the band.

So, yes, I will certainly be buying a hard-copy (LP / CD) of the album when it’s released in October. At the moment it can only be digitally downloaded, which is not recommended because the clicks between tracks on MP3 spoil the otherwise continuous flow….

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‘Sketches of Brunswick East’ is now available digitally to download on Heavenly Recordings and will be released physically (CD / LP) on October 13th.

Track Listing:
1. Sketches Of Brunswick East I
2. Countdown
3. D-Day
4. Tezeta
5. Cranes Planes Migraines
6. The Spider And Me
7. Sketches Of Brunswick East II
8. Dawn To Dusk On Lygon Street
9. The Book
10. A Journey To (S)Hell
11. Rolling Stoned
12. You Can Be Your Silhouette
13. Sketches Of Brunswick East III

**Photos from Gig Junkies review of King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard at Manchester Albert Hall in June 2017, courtesy of John Bentley – check out our review HERE.

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