King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard & Mild High Club - Sketches of Brunswick East

by Kyle Kersey Rating:8 Release Date:2017-10-13

As per usual, all bets were off when Aussie rockers King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard announced their third album of 2017 was going to be both a jazz record and collaboration with Mac DeMarco disciple Alex Brettin (under the whimsical moniker Mild High Club). 2017 has been the year of the over correction for these guys. Last year, they released one of the best rock albums this decade, Nonagon Infinity – a sleek, pulse-pounding garage classic fit with 1950’s B-movie sensibilities and a sci-fi aesthetic. It was my album of the year, but it also marked the first year in a while where the band released but a single album. And that indolence would not stand. No sir. To make penance for such a sin, the group promised a ridiculous five albums in 2017, and suddenly frontman Stu Mackenzie has found himself back in the lab, concocting creative concept albums devoted to B-movie charms of absurdity and a sci-fi aesthetic (the more things change, the more they stay the same I suppose). 

By all rights, this is a sister album to their 2014 acoustic pop effort Paper Mache Dream Balloon, complete with fluttering flute melodies and relaxing rhythmic cadences, while adding wah-wah laced guitars and mellotron into the mix. Each song flows into the next, similarly to Nonagon Infinity, substituting high-octane intensity for blissful relaxation.  More of an extended jam than a fully realized album with fully realized songs; most of the tracks on the album are short. Ten of thirteen are no longer than three and a half minutes long, while five stay around the two-minute mark. Of course, the context for this is all in the title – these are sketches after all – paying homage to Miles Davis’ seminal 1960 jazz album Sketches of Spain. In reality, Davis wasn’t really performing sketches, with two of the album’s five songs clocking in at over fifteen minutes – the equivalent to Michelangelo claiming the Sistine Chapel was “just a doodle”. And if Davis was portraying the serene beauty of the Latin nation, one could only assume the oceanic suburb is an acid-fueled carnival 24/7.

Opening the record is “Sketches of Brunswick East I”, an Arabian flute melody reminiscent of the 1936 Duke Ellington Standard “Caravan” over cool jazz instrumentation. Surprisingly enough, this melody doesn’t end up as a reoccurring motif (save for “Sketches of Brunswick East II” and “III”, warped almost beyond recognition). Apparent biblical references to Exodus and a rhythmic carnival march, as well as the robotic vocal cameo from Han-Tyumi the cyborg from Murder of the Universe make “Terezeta” a standout amongst the bunch. “Cranes, Planes, and Migraines” – a clever wordplay of the John Candy/Steve Martin classic comedy “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” – kicks into a tight funk while “A Journey to S(hell)” explores the depths of late 60’s Pink Floyd psychedelia, colored by orbital screaming guitars. “The Book” injects arcade keyboards into the folds, sinister in the way Luigi’s Mansion is spooky, though it doesn’t take away from the macabre lyrics of a delusional man committing deranged acts in order to live his life “by the book” (likely an allusion to religious texts such as the Bible or Koran).

With few exceptions, Sketches of Brunswick East is full of unique musical ideas and melodies, though the ideas can sometimes abstain from completion, like “D-Day”, whereupon an infectiously catchy bass groove lasts but a minute. Execution also varies a bit. “You Can Be Your Silhouette” is kept strictly in elevator rhythm while “Countdown” leads to a dead end of a keyboard solo the thrill of Gran Turismo menu music.

If this all sounds a bit silly to you, that's because it inherently is. For as talented as King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard are musically, they never seem to take themselves seriously. Browsing Youtube makes this abundantly clear, their music video's consisting of a cheesy 1970s veneer.  Perhaps the most absurd example is the music video for "People Vultures", where the band is playing the Nonagon single tethered to a giant inflatable vulture. And that's why I love them. In indie culture, cynicism is the norm, not silliness. And this silliness brings out an oddball authenticity to the group and their sound. 

In terms of an album, Sketches of Brunswick East is one of the group’s messiest releases of the past few years, harkening back to the band's early albums like Oddiments, but in the context of what the band's trying to do, it works. Instead of delivering some overarching ideal, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard take us on a schizophrenic tour around a carnivalesque depiction of their hometown; a tripped out experience of suburban landscapes and surreal life through the wide eyes of one of rock music's most enigmatic bands working today. Three albums into the year, Sketches of Brunswick East stands as a testament to the band’s creativity. 

Overall Rating (1)

5 out of 5 stars
  • Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    Kyle,

    Awesome first review on the site and welcome. I don't know the band but you've obviously done your research and nailed this. An entertaining read even if I don't get to the album. Well done!