Album Review: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Sketches of Brunswick East by Nathan Brooks

By this point, we’re all acquainted with the Melbourne psychedelic rock septet King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. With two albums preceding Sketches of Brunswick East this year alone, their name graces new release pages frequently (and let’s face it, no one’s forgetting it in a hurry).

Album Review: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Sketches of Brunswick East

Mild High Club, Gizz’s partner in crime on this record, is a less familiar name. The solo project of Los Angeles musician Alex Brettin, Mild High Club sounds like Mac DeMarco started writing for Steely Dan, with Todd Rundgren on production. On Sketches of Brunswick East, he maintains his distinctive creative voice whilst seamlessly fitting in with King Gizzard on one of their best albums yet.

If you’re listening to Sketches off the back of King Gizzard’s last album Murder of the Universe, you’re going to notice a difference. That last record was defined by relentlessly visceral garage rock and intensely dark lyrics about mutated monsters and vomiting cyborgs. Sketches, on the other hand, is made up of chilled out, jazzy tunes about nostalgic memories and friendships with spiders. The first of three title tracks establishes the tone of the album, with studio chatter leading into bouncy piano chords and a beautiful flute melody. Relaxed and carefree, Sketches is a laid-back Gizz album along the lines of 2013’s Float Along – Fill Your Lungs and especially 2015’s similarly jazzy Quarters! 

One of Gizz’s trademark bonkers drum rolls kicks off Countdown. Here, any fears of the band doing a free-form jazz exploration à la Spinal Tap are quelled. Similar to Soft Machine’s self-titled debut, the jazzy instrumentation serves as a platform for songs as infectious as on any ‘conventional’ Gizz record. It’s also clear how well King Gizzard and Brettin’s songwriting meshes together. Aside from a couple of songs (the jerky rhythm of The Book is clearly much more Gizz), their styles combine equally and fluently. On the instrumental pieces, such as the three title tracks and Rolling Stoned, a flute provides the melody, reminiscent of Gizz’s stripped down, acid folk album Paper Mâché Dream Balloon.

“Sketches of Brunswick East sees King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard…finding solace amidst the world’s madness through the beauty of their antipodean homeland.”

The starkest contrast with previous albums is how conceptually inconsistent Sketches is, feeling restless, spontaneous and, well, sketchy. The Spider and Me draws influence from Brazillian singer Gilberto Gil, whilst Tezeta references a traditional style of Ethiopian music and Gizz’s garage roots seep through on A Journey to (S)Hell. The lyrics are just as diverse. The sights and sounds of Melbourne populate Dusk to Dawn on Lygon Street, whilst The Book takes a satirical look at cults and religious fanatics. Fortunately, it all comes together. Every track flows elegantly into the next, with a handful of loose and groovy instrumental interludes bridging any other gaps. As a result, the album feels impulsive without feeling careless.

In other words, Sketches is the band’s third consecutive triumph this year. It’s wildly unique from their other work, whilst still distinctly King Gizzard, a feat they can pull off like few others. Let’s not forget the contribution of Mild High Club, either. His heavenly sound envelops this album thoroughly and he clearly brings out some of the best Gizz have to offer. On their 2017 album The Weather, fellow Aussie psych rockers Pond appreciated the parts of their country that bring everyone together. Sketches of Brunswick East sees King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard in a similar place, finding solace amidst the world’s madness through the beauty of their antipodean homeland.

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard w/ Mild High Club – Sketches of Brunswick East is released digitally via Heavenly Recordings on 25 August 2017, and in physical format on 13 October 2017