A Beginner’s Guide to King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

best king gizzard albums

Twenty-five studio albums in 14 years is, frankly, a hell of a lot. Even the notoriously productive Guided By Voices fails to match King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard‘s level of productivity, having only recently released their 40th studio album in just under 40 total years as a band. Buckethead, obviously, surpasses the Wizards’ productivity to a psychopathic degree, with his Pike series alone comprising a staggering 598 studio albums in the same span as King Gizzard’s entire career. This mind-boggling statistic aside though, 25 albums still poses a unique challenge to someone wondering how the hell to really get started with the band. Further compounding matters is that many of the records from this group are of different idioms, some of which are better executed by the band than others, each expanding the range and toolkit of the group’s overall material but not necessarily individually being compelling artifacts of greatness.

This issue in particular was one that came up between our fearless leader Jeff Terich and I as I began more and more to stump for coverage of King Gizzard as their material had finally, in my eyes, crested to a consistent level of engagement, interest and, frankly, excellence. Despite all appearances (I am often staggered by simply how much of the world of music Jeff knows about (Aw shucks—Ed.)), he does not yet know everything, and after some discussions about this band, somewhat a blind spot of his, it was determined that perhaps, with such a vexing and vast discography as they possess, with enough albums that are total duds and enough that are superlative, that perhaps, perhaps!, a beginner’s guide might be in order. Note: I will be cheating to reach five albums in this list, as you will see. Permit me these cheats, I beseech thee; it is to benefit of me and you, dear reader, both.

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best king gizzard albums - nonagon infinity

Nonagon Infinity (2016)

My suggested starting point is, interestingly enough, not what I consider their best record but instead the precise one that made me go, oh. Prior to this album, I broadly viewed the band as another of the neo-psychedelic indie rock cadre, a post-Animal Collective jammy kind of group that, to my ears, didn’t produce anything of special note. I had, admittedly, not heard every record the band had released by this point, sampling the first three or so and writing off the rest, a fact I would come to regret. But it was this one that was pressed forcefully in my hand by a number of trusted artist friends I’d made in the worlds of poetry, fiction and fine art, all of whom insisted, in no uncertain terms, that it would be ravenously my shit. The pitch: A 40-minute, or perhaps infinitely long (more on this in a moment), song in 9 movements, progressive rock of a very late ’60s and early ’70s manner, the kind where it burgeons at the edge of garage rock, interpolating odd time signatures and a million different ideas, but still girded by a repetitive backbone of recapitulations be the rhythmic, melodic or lyrical. What’s more, the tone here was, per the words of others, decidedly heavier than a lot of their earlier material, having a ragged heavy rock edge to gird the still-indie rock paletable vocals.

In short, the pitch was successful. Each song bleeds into the next; cover the track info with your hand and, just like the best prog records of old, you will be unable to know for certain whether you are on track 2 or 7, 4 or 9; even better, much like my clause-cluttered sentences, the end runs into the beginning, causing either a discordant yank as it abruptly stops or, listened digitally, the ideal for this record, it flips seamlessly back to the start, one giant never-ending wheel. It’s like the old run-out groove trick of rock records of old, letting there be a perpetual groove or ambient soundscaping on a perfect ridged circle so the vinyl stays forever in that droning place, but played out over a full album. This would not be the first time that King Gizzard played with formalism in this manner; hell, it wasn’t even the first time they did already, with Quarters! being a record of four equal-sized ten-minute songs, a stab at more traditional ideas of prog/psych material. But, especially for a new listener, this is perhaps the easiest entry point to understanding both what the band is about on a song level as well as a more macro-scale structuralist one, married to some kick ass material to boot.

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Rough Trade (vinyl)

best king gizzard albums polygondwanaland

Polygondwanaland (2017)

If Nonagon Infinity was the record of theirs that turned my head, Polygondwanaland was the record that cemented them in my mind as, finally, good. The group can be viewed roughly as a series of sub-projects under one great banner of the group name, with little sub-series of records being explorations of specific sonic ideas that they sometimes merge but often let percolate in their own little worlds. In this idiom, we wind up seeing a number of bifurcated double-albums, either material all recorded at the same time or recorded with the same repeating idiom, which is perhaps best viewed as a single work spread out over multiple releases; other times, like here, we see a proper developmental sequel, separate and advanced to its own identity. This is their second perhaps “proper” progressive rock record, removing the garage rock elements from Nonagon Infinity to dive properly into the Moog- and Mellotron-soaked sounds of ’70s prog, replete with harmonic minor exotic riffs, post-Floydian dreamscapes and even portions that feel reminiscent of Camel, Egg or other progressive rocks of that deeper cut.

Part of the reduction of garage rock influence is in the production and engineering of this record, which takes a more sharply defined character than their more blown-out sound of their early material, an affect which seemed always more aligned with Ty Segall’s body of work or the sound of In the Red records. The opening of the windows, so to speak, allows more delicate layering and arrangement here, be it stacked vocals, overlaying synth with bass and flute and guitar to make more complex and dreamlike soundscapes, or even just more clearly delineated movement of instruments across the sound field, from backing rhythmic elements to their rise as lead lines before pulling back again. All of their records, for the most part, can be listened to loud in a crammed room of rambunctious drunkards (a compliment, to be clear!); this one, however, is equally or perhaps better suited for headphones listening, a hi-fi system, letting the arrangements take center stage rather than letting it score good times of your own.

Producing a record like this is often the sign that a jam band, of which begrudgingly—despite my great hatred of the form!—I must admit King Gizzard is, has at last achieved themselves as not just songwriters but also producers. The shortcoming of jam bands as an idiom is often in so privileging the live experience of music-in-the-moment, a powerful element of the arts to be sure, that the notion of delicate and deliberate craft falls by the wayside and the groups, once their time on the road has reached its end, leave little to no enduring documents of their work. Studio-remaindered groups, meanwhile, often suffer an inverted fate, coming to a kind of artistic maturity often well after their end due to the way their keenly-recorded material outlives them. It’s not strictly necessary, but it can be a powerful thing to achieve striking that keen middle path. On Polygondwanaland, King Gizzard do so. It is a record that is as compelling in live releases as it is an enduring document of how thriving progressive rock is in the 21st century, actualizing the latent prog influence of so much indie rock of the early 2000s in a way that feels equal-handed in its honoring of where it came from and where it was inevitably always going to go.

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Turntable Lab (vinyl)

King Gizzard Petrodragonic Apocalypse review

PetroDragonic Apocalypse; or. Dawn of Eternal Night: An Annihilation of Planet Earth and the Beginning of Merciless Damnation (2023)

This record’s placement in this guide serves two purposes: First, to highlight the burgeoning heavy metal influence in their sound, something that lurked in the background early on what with all the distorted high-energy garage rock and psychedelia but has become over the years a more and more dominating feature of their more rock-oriented material. Second, because musical and lyrical ideas on this record recur in the next record on this list, acting as a kind of double record split across two separate projects. Initially, I will admit, my intent was to list both of these albums together in a single entry, trying my best to pass them off as a single project; in many ways this is true, of course, and it’s partly that kind of high-minded conceptual oriented work that is so compelling about the band. Ultimately, however, the differences are a bit too, um, obvious to pull that kind of trick. Alas!

While their record Omnium Gatherum offers a wind-ranging sampler of their material and perhaps serves best as a single-record starter to their material, my mind is still that if you are willing to try a couple records out, it is better to pursue those elements of their sound segregated out to their own projects. This one is far and away their best heavy rock record, mixing a kind of hyper-muscular prog metal typically seen in the sludge metal world practiced by bands such as Radiant Knife and that magical window of material from The Sword before their overall quality started slipping with Motörhead-style ignorant driving rhythms and even a couple shreddy harmonized licks to boot. The songs are sequenced like one great song suite, a defining trait of the group. If you can’t really stand that kind of old-school album-oriented approach to rock music, the kind that naturally led to progressive rock archetypes in groups cerebral and visceral alike way back when, this group simply will not do it for you. That said, PetroDragonic Apocalypse still has accent marks of humor and wit stemming from their indie and psych days. This combination, ironically, brings them back in good company with Motörhead, a group that likewise never took themselves overly seriously and always made room for cheeky humor amidst their frankly fucking badass riffing. I gave this record a rave review when it came out for a reason; it’s still heavy in my rotation. If you don’t think this rips, you might just be stupid.

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Rough Trade (vinyl)

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard the silver cord

The Silver Cord (2023)

The SIlver Cord is, without a doubt, my favorite record by the group. Why is it fourth then? Because, well, it’s not a great capturing of the group’s overall sound: at least not yet. This is, at time of writing, their most recent studio record and, given both the reception of the record and the clear joy that went into making it, it’s hard to imagine they won’t pursue interpolating many of these ideas into their overall sonic palette in time to come. Plus, if you want to get in on a band, why wouldn’t you inevitably throw on the peak of the mountain?

The proceeds here are a little deceiving: an extended version of the album and a standard version, with one lurching past 80 minutes in length while the latter sits snug under 30 minutes. Depending on your taste, it’s easy to convince yourself you only need one or the other. Au contraire! The Wizards here deploy a technique that underscores why they are so exciting to people like me: The versions aren’t just different by length but also elements of interior structure, how the pieces speak to each other and other elements of their discography. Only on the extended versions do you get the numerous musical and lyrical references to PetroDragonic, offering a numinous progressive electronic record as mirror to the prog metal; meanwhile, the shorter version of the record is edited such that it plays more like a single 30-minute composition in multiple movements, offering more hooks and more clearly progressive rock-oriented approach to the same material. Fun fact: when the singles for this dropped, three at once masquerading as an EP, I initially thought it was dogshit. Goes to show you a good general lesson about this group but also records in general: don’t just them out of context and be patient.

This record in turn serves, retroactively, as a good way to sample their more groove-oriented psychedelic/progressive rock and pop, as well as their jazzier tendences. Records such as Quarters!, Changes and the shockingly underrated Ice, Death, Planets,Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava all mark themselves as quality ventures in this idiom, as do their two 30-minute jam records named Made in Timeland and Laminated Denim, anagrams of each other. But while each of those records are strong material, functionally giving you a freebie set of five to check out after this list (you’re welcome), they fail to topple this one. As well they should! As their most recent record of that generalized style, this one in many senses should be a culmination of all lessons learned. That it succeeds so brilliantly as to comfortably sit at the very top of the entire heap for me is a sign that the band is in many ways just heating up. We live in exciting times, friends, and for once it’s not just because of the rising fascism and the slow climate death of the planet.

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Rough Trade (vinyl)

best king gizzard albums - KGLW

K.G. / L.W. (2020/2021)

This is, as I’m certain you can tell, technically two records and not one. I told you I was going to cheat! And yet a little reading shows quick that they are a double record split up as two releases, obviously patterned as the initials of the group; further, the opening instrumental track of K.G. is the combined title of both records, further underscoring their unified aspect. This set comprises the second and third full records of theirs exploring microtonal tunings, drawing sonic influence on the vast worlds of Eastern European, Anatolian, Semitic and Middle Eastern psychedelia. Real heads know; it wasn’t just that white westerners plucked those sounds to graft them to psych rock as an exoticization that would make Edward Said’s eyes roll out of his fucking head. They were also exceedingly vibrant scenes in the burgeoning psychedelic and progressive rock worlds of the ’60s and ’70s, with their advances of the form grafting themselves to the pop and dance music of those regions as well. I mention this because it doesn’t take long in this double record to realize that King Gizzard are not just familiar with the whiter, more western appropriations of these sounds but of some of those crate-digging favorites themselves. What plays out here is blindingly sincere, devoid of irony but not lacking in humor. The microtonality and implied folk origins of the material, meanwhile, are never the butt of the joke, being given instead respectful spaces as the fundamental of these obnoxiously catchy grooves.

I listen to a lot of, to be honest, nearly-unlistenable avant-garde bullshit. I don’t say this to knock it. I love work that challenges and does so vigorously, be it cinema or novels, fine art or, in this case, music. I mention this because despite what it says on the tin, that these are songs played exclusively in microtonal tunings, a sequel record to their album Microtonal Flying Banana (which, rightly, sounds like a Gong album both by the title and the material both), this is conscious of the limits of a western listenership. You won’t find them riding hard on the quarter tones to the degree that you wonder whether its microtonal or just out of tune; even when those quarter tones are incorporated in key rhythmic positions in their riffs, the places most likely to drive them like a nail into weaker ears, they are allayed by grooves too infectious and, uh, groovy to be thrown for a loop. This isn’t just a great record to introduce you to the potentialities of this group; it’s a good way to potentially open the door for worlds of psychedelia, jazz, folk and progressive music that have long been favorites of the record-loving world.

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp (KG)/(LW) | Amazon (vinyl)

Next Steps: This set of five outlines well both the heights of the catalog of King Gizzard as well as a decent sampling of the breadth of their musical voice. Though they technically fall under the wider umbrella of a jam band, something we here at Treble rightly despise, they remind me more of the way groups like Frank Zappa’s combos would create both flurries of studio material as well as often strikingly different interpretations for the stage. It helps that, unlike many jam bands, the focus here is not on the drugs you take while listening or the people you bang or don’t bang as a result of being a fan but instead on the music itself. (Those other two elements are up to you to pursue; I’m not a cop.)

If you want further listening, I technically already gave it to you but: Quarters!, Changes, Ice, Timeland and Laminated are all great next steps, featuring brilliant songwriting and a keen ear for structuralism. Mind Fuzz and Flying Banana are strong records and, had this guide been written some years earlier, they would have found their way on here. Omnium Gatherum has enough thrills to warrant a listen but, ironically, by not being precisely the best at any of its moves it’s best saved for when you already dig what the group does. Those in the know enjoy Butterfly 3000 and its remix sequel record which, like all great remix records, reorients the material to such a degree that it feels sincerely like a new record and not just endless tweaks to old shit.

There isn’t much left of the band to explore from there. You might notice, if you are a fan of the group reading this or perhaps someone who just loves to double-check articles against the Wikipedia entry for a band, that I’ve ignored entirely the early material of the group as well as Gumboot Shoes. This is deliberate; that was the material that, before the catching shift to progressive rock, turned me off of the band and, on returning after falling in love with their material, still failed to impress. Venture if you dare but, to these ears, its juvenilia that led us to what we needed to get to, not a worthwhile destination on its lonesome.

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