A HEALTHY LIZARD will shed its skin two to four times a year, sometimes more. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard keep roughly the same pace, changing their approach, sound, and instrumentation at a dizzying clip. The Australian group was formed by seven close mates in 2010 as a party band with a deliberately silly name, and they've released roughly two albums a year since 2012's 12 Bar Bruise. Their latest, Quarters, is a mellow, zoned-out follow-up to last year's spastic, brilliant psych-rock exorcism I'm in Your Mind Fuzz. But even the recently released Quarters is old hat already—the shape-shifters have a new acoustic album, Paper Maché Dream Balloon, coming out in November.
For their first-ever Portland show, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard will be playing even newer stuff, which tilts back toward the dark and heavy end of the spectrum. When I speak to ringleader Stu Mackenzie, the band's getting ready for LA's FYF Festival: "We're just having a bit of a jam and getting back in the swing of it. We're trying to re-learn these songs off of Paper Maché but it's not really working very well."
Paper Maché Dream Balloon was meant to be a song-oriented palate cleanser between their more conceptual, jam-oriented work—like Quarters, which contains four tracks that are each precisely 10 minutes and 10 seconds long. Of Quarters, Mackenzie explains, "I'm in Your Mind Fuzz was a real kind of heavy record with lots of energy and yelling and screaming and all that stuff. I wanted to make something that complemented it and was maybe more chill—because as Mind Fuzz goes on, it gets softer, so I wanted Quarters to feel like you could play it directly after and it would almost tie on to the end. So we recorded it pretty much the same way. I wanted it to have songs that are really simple and sort of drag 'em out to an almost kind of monotonous, hypnotic level. That was the idea: Take a song that's meant to go for two minutes and make it just not stop."
Quarters is an immersive and appealingly drowsy work, featuring some of the left-field pop and underwater funk vibes you might find on an Unknown Mortal Orchestra record. It's the perfect companion piece to the intense Mind Fuzz, which might be King Gizzard's most crystalized statement of psychedelic fury yet. (It's got stiff competition: "Head On/Pill" from 2013's Float Along - Fill Your Lungs is 16 minutes of searing brain lava, featuring cataclysmic guitars, chiming sitar, and relentless krautrock momentum.)
For the forthcoming Paper Maché Dream Balloon, however, the Lizards took a sharp tack toward the pastoral. "I was feeling a bit bummed out by the concept album kind of thing," says Mackenzie. "I felt like I was pressuring myself to make songs that were these epic things... I think it's dumb if you can't just write a song and let it be a song. So all the songs on Paper Maché are just sort of meant to be songs—song-y songs. I don't know, that was sort of the point, and then somehow it ended up weirdly being a concept album, just by having the acoustic thing. The songs don't have lyrical or melodic ties, really; there's no sort of overall story arc or anything to the record, except for the last song. It was meant to be an anti-concept album that ended up being a concept."
Recorded on Mackenzie's parents' farm in Victoria, surrounded by "horses, emus, and Tim Tams," the 12 short tunes on Paper Maché stick to a folkier, acoustic template, sprinkled with flute, fiddle, and clarinet. In some ways it's the group's candy-shoppe popsike album, but as intended, the songwriting remains in crisp focus. It's a welcome addition to the band's shaggy, ever-evolving discography of freakouts, experiments, and propulsive jams.
But now, with the not-yet-released Paper Maché perhaps already in their rearview mirror, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are returning to the denser, darker psychedelic rock that they're perhaps best known for. "We're working on some heavier stuff," Mackenzie says. "Sort of opposite to Paper Maché, really—after this one we can go back into the deep zone again."