Well, it’s a day ending with a Y, so you know what that means: another two hours of King Gizzard material to review. One of the benefits, by the way, of our occasional pause to reflect on records is being able to see what other people think, to pick up or discard threads of interest that have either been over- or under-studied. For instance, this new album by King Gizzard, a group noted as much for their insane pace of output as they are the sonic range they explore on that same output, seems to have challenged a lot of people on the beat, as it were, in a way their other records didn’t. One can only assume this is because of the elephant in the room: this is an electronic record, removed often quite a bit from their rock impulses (save, of course, for the space, psychedelic and progressive wings of their sound). There’s long been a gap between rock listeners and critics and electronic music, one that’s quite befuddling given both the long history the two worlds have of being bound at the hip, the common body-music spirit of both of them as broad genre spaces, not to mention the number of brilliant groups that have straddled the divide between the two worlds over the past several decades now.
Which is a way to say that The Silver Cord is another record of quality from the mighty King Gizzard, a group comfortably living up to the “king” name shared by similar prolific genre cosmonauts King Crimson. Electronica, it turns out, is a mighty wide umbrella for those who know, and King Gizzard decide to explore it in gusto across this record, with each of its seven tracks tackling a different sector of the genre. You will find kosmische and drum & bass, synthpop and trance, but remarkably little in the way of anything IDM-adjacent or even heavily techno-associated, the two genres one more familiar with electronic music might image would be the most immediately attractive to a band comfortable with mathy riffs and progressive structures. These tracks are vocally driven (well, sort of; more on that later), which lets the group also explore the motifs and modes endemic to electronic music’s vocal approaches: there is rap akin to the kind one might have heard at a house music club in the ’90s, the kind of child-like rhyming those fresh from the world of prog applied to the early techno and kosmische of the ’70s, the chanted motorik vocals of Kraftwerk. The joy of this is one on hand historic, showing that King Gizzard really did their homework for this record, but also a deeply sonic one; each of the pieces retains its own identity both compositionally and vocally, an element strongly necessarily given its curious structure.
The Silver Cord comes in two forms: one short, one long. Knowing our readers, you are likely tempted to go immediately for the extended version of the record, bypassing the edited version entirely. And why wouldn’t you? If you hear a psych rock band has a 30-minute jam and a two-minute single edit, who among the music nerds, critics and players nabs the edited version? After all, who know what gold fell to the cutting room floor to trim up track lengths that mighty! And so the extended version comes clocking in at nearly 90 minutes, with the longest track cresting just over the 20-minute mark while the rest sail comfortably past 10 apiece. It is in this extended format that we first see the necessity of a strong identity for each of these songs; spending that long in the embrace of any piece threatens boredom over an album-length span if there isn’t a great sense of movement from song to song, some way to make minute 50 feel as engaging as minute 3, for the final ten minutes of a feature film-length album to feel as engaging as the one-third mark. But strong identities are not the only concern, obviously. Thankfully, that other great elephant in the room is also addressed: despite their elephantine scales, these tracks possess a great deal of interior movement as well, developing in active-tense where many other rock band’s electronic projects skew toward the overly-placid wing of ambiance.
The shift of all players to synths and drum machines is felt here; these songs still feel strongly like King Gizzard material, meaning that there are plenty of woven countermelodies, slow prog developmental passages, strong juxtapositional cuts across semi-linear songwriting structures, and enough wisdom to give one or more refrains and chorus progressions to give a sense of macro-scale structure to these behemoths. That they open the record with a 20-minute track and earn it with the nuggets and ear candy across that piece, allowing it to deconstruct all the way to a near-Bruce Haack style ’60s kitsch space pop tune and build up to something Yes or Genesis at their most zany and surreal might have penned is a brilliant touch and one that rightfully earns trust for the remaining somewhat briefer tracks, a trust they pay back by the end of the record
This leaves, for listeners like us, the curious issue of the shorter version of the record, clocking in at just under 30 minutes. You might be inclined to skip it entirely: I strongly encourage you do not do this. This is one area where I agree, at least to a degree, with other commentators and critics about this album. The edited version feels, much like Transatlantic’s final record, less like a singles-ready version of these tracks and more like its own work founded on the same root material. The mix and edit within the tracks themselves is quite deft, peeling away the length instrumental passages that create the bulk of the extended cuts to pull out material that winds up sounding closer to modern-day Animal Collective, who have recently regained their capacity for whip-smart pop songcraft, MGMT’s material from Congratulations forward, or Yeasayer around their second or third record. The tonal shift skews away from the vast cosmicism of the prog of the extended cut, whose name references the silver cord tying the astral body to the living body during astral projection and spirit walking, replacing it with something more immediately graspable but, more importantly, starkly different. Beyond these tracks being transformed in their edits to adhere to an altogether different indie electronic sensibility, the mix across the album is also different, segueing each track into the next to create what feels more like a 30-minute epic in seven movements. Each version of the record could have been released on its own and been an acceptable record; that we get both is a treasure and worth the patience exploring both forms.
Especially since one aspect of The Silver Cord that has gone largely under-discussed is its relation to PetroDragonic Apocalypse, their album-length prog metal suite from earlier this year. Listening only to the edited version, one could be forgiven for not picking up on the relation and double forgiven for not really caring. It is in fact only in the extended version that we get some of those audio nuggets I mentioned earlier, including recapitulations of key musical themes, melodies and rhythms from Apocalypse reconfigured here as interstitials between segments or even key rhythms for extended jams. The opening track, for instance, has the most obvious version, recapitulating the chant from “Motorspirit,” offering insight that the lyrics about the snapping of the silver cord and the free movement of the spirit is, in fact, a narrative sequel to that previous record, our main character(s) loosed upon the warm waters of the cosmic sea after the scorching fires of a molten earth led to their death. This conjunct of concepts in turn strengthens some of the interest in this material, especially regarding its length and the complexity of its trancelike jams. But more importantly, it provides a justification for releasing this much material that is this demanding within a year, a relatively unique problem that only the exceptionally prolific have to worry about.
If last year’s set of three separate LPs from the group felt a bit much (truthfully, we could have done without Changes, as much as I find certain material on it quite charming), this year’s more spaced-out set of material feels a great deal more justified in asking your time, with Apocalypse being their most compelling prog metal offering to date met by The Silver Cord, a brilliant and deeply satisfying feast of progressive and club-ready synth work. That the band still finds new doors to open and extends them into domains that even long-time listeners wouldn’t expect proves consistently why they’ve so quickly amassed the following they have. Lord only knows how long they can keep this up. We should count our blessings jealously while we can.
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Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.