Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A cosmic adventure in psychedelia: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s 25th studio album, ‘The Silver Cord’

Exploring uncharted territory in the universe of psychedelic rock with Melbourne’s most prolific group
A cosmic adventure in psychedelia: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s 25th studio album, ‘The Silver Cord’

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, a dynamic product of Melbourne’s vibrant music scene, is known for being untethered to genre or sound. With an incessant drive for experimentation, the group free-falls into the endlessly expansive realm of psychedelia, exploring the constraints of rock and roll – and then eradicating them.

In a genre already celebrated for its efforts against the mainstream, King Gizzard somehow bends the rules of psychedelic rock. Or, are they returning to its original form?  Drawn to the erratic and exciting, they delve into any sound that can turn a listener inside-out: prog, jazz, microtonal, even exploring thrash metal in their latest album, “Petrodragonic Apocalypse; or, Dawn of Eternal Night: An Annihilation of Planet Earth and the Beginning of Merciless Damnation,” released just last month. In other words, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard has achieved total musical freedom, and you can hear it.

Their niche — and rejection of industry normative — is their prolific discography, with 25 studio albums thus far. In 2017, lead vocalist Stu Mackenzie tantalized the indie scene with the announcement of the anticipated release of five studio albums for the upcoming year. After that, it became relatively usual for them to drum up buzz amongst their eclectic fan base with two or three album releases a year.

Beyond the staggering pace of the albums, the content itself is what elevates them to an omnipotent force in the psychedelic rock scene. With each release, they somehow discover and explore a new sound that scratches the itchy brain of a rock and roll fan, before expanding it 10-fold with mind-bending, reality-distorting lyricism. Each release is a unique snowflake,  and quality is never sacrificed for quantity. Their latest and 25th studio album, “The Silver Cord,” is a testament to this supernatural ability for inventiveness.

For the duration of “The Silver Cord,” listeners are taken on an intergalactic acid trip, with an 80s synth accompanying the electronic drum — the star instrument of this cosmic journey. But their distinctive sound isn’t abandoned. King Gizzard’s rock-and-roll roots return as gruff and distorted vocals interrupt the twinkling and melodic instrumentals.

The double-disk project unfolds like a kaleidoscope, with the second disc consisting of the extended versions of each track. The album cover itself serves as a visualization of its contents, with each band member a fractal, sporting red sunglasses and encircled by a ring of pianos.

Within the first ten seconds of their introductory song, “Theia,” named after the ancient planet, interdimensional listening ensues. Full of galactic synths, it’s clear the group has abandoned the guitar-heavy instrumentals of their previous albums and leaned into techno. With beats reminiscent of Kraftwerk, one of the genre’s pioneers, and squelching synth, it also echoes the sounds of early 90s acid house. The original track comes in at roughly three minutes, and the extended version at around 20. This allows for longer and more explorative instrumental passages, though it is maybe the only track that could have been comfortably shorter.

The next song and title track, “The Silver Cord,” has an ambiance more eerie than “Theia.” The shortened version of the track has one of the album’s greatest musical traverses, with a distinct beginning, middle and end. Immediate vocals are distorted into an alien-like croon, coming through as an extraterrestrial in despair, before turning into a darker existential anthem. It then metamorphosizes into a strong chorus with “I am a vessel,” pulling from “Theia” with its spectral vocals. In the extended version, a couple minute-long passage of pulsating synth and ominous distortion perpetuates the darkness. Once again, airy vocals come in as a rising action, before falling again into the fiery pits of electronic drum.

“Set” is quintessential King Gizzard. It’s almost best to view their albums as scores for eclectic theater productions, or their creative petri dishes, to prepare you for the heights of their experimentation. “Set” is as much 90s hip-hop as it is psychedelic, featuring a rap verse from Ambrose Kenny Smith, a King Gizzard multi-instrumentalist. It’s the most upbeat and danceable track on the album, with the extended version only elevating its rhythm. The track also bears a striking parallel to a previous song of theirs, “Sadie Sorceress,” on their album “Omnium Gatherum.” Both tracks are great candidates for an epic wizard rap battle.

The next track, “Chan’ge,” is named after a moon goddess from Chinese mythology. A fairy-like twinkling sets the scene for a falsetto voice, crooning “The dreamer of dreams,” introducing the ethereal ambiance. The lyrics are chock full of vivid imagery. They encourage the life of an intergalactic voyager, advertising the chance to sail the moon-sea, explore glowing portals and ride on moonbeams. It also describes the life of a witchy moon goddess, who lives in a palace amongst the stars and plays a lyre of lightning bolts. The melodramatic journey and synth-line strikes an interesting resemblance to some of the stuff produced by French electro multi-instrumentalist group M83.

While the previous tracks could be described as otherworldly, the ancient and mythical tale of “Gilgamesh” comes in as underworldly, immediately swallowing you in deep synth. Just barely legible vocals growl the lyrics of the epic poem, chronicling a vivid and hellish galactic battle. It’s an undeniable climax to the album, with rap intervals serving as a Greek chorus to the adventures unfolding. While it may be the strangest on the album, it’s also one of the strongest. The extended version features a return of the “GILA GILA” chant and more exotic percussion.

“Swan Song” is one of the tracks that felt the most acid-house on the album, and fit for any warehouse in the 90s. The title itself is representative of a final performance before death, or in this case, the culminating track “Extinction.” The drum and synth courses through veins as “Swan Song” illuminates ultimate demise, saying, “Drink your booze and smoke your weed / Drain the vein and bleed for me / The ground is swaying beneath your feet / You can’t see shit and you can’t breathe / Kicked yourself in the teeth.”

The final act, “Extinction,” comes in hard and fast with the repeating line, “Knocking at extinction’s door.” An apocalyptic twist to the idiom “Knocking on heaven’s door,” cements the theme of the track — doom. While the shortened track lacks resolution, they once again come in with the tension-relief of their extended track, the 12-minute-long song unfurling as a beastly epic, serving as a satisfactory conclusion to the album.

While it isn’t the pinnacle of their discography, the album as a whole is nuanced. Known for their ability to harness tension, their build-up and release in the instrumental passages of their extended tracks characterizes the album. The vocals almost battle for dominance with the complexity of the instrumentals, though remain both ingenious and equally epic. From the nihilistic “Extinction” to the embryonic tale of “The Silver Cord,” King Gizzard takes listeners on a vivid, cosmic lyrical journey. They traverse both time and space, resurrect ancient tales and explore complex topics regarding human mortality.

“The Silver Cord” isn’t the first album I’d recommend to someone unfamiliar with their work, but it’s a perfect release for the hungry ears of their psychonautic, basement-gremlin fan base – a testament of their ability to stay continuously fresh and organic. It’s textbook King Gizzard to put out something that you’ve never heard before, and likely won’t again.

Caitlin Joy can be reached at [email protected].

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *