Explorations into microtonal tunings volume three: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s L.W. - Berkeley B-Side (2024)

With a band as prolific and experimental as King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (KGATLW), it is hard to imagine what a self-titled album, an artist’s definition of their sound, might be like. Still, it is surprising that a band as prolific and experimental as KGATLW didn’t release one earlier. L.W. (2021) is the second part to King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s self-titled double album (the predecessor K.G.came out last November) and is the 17th full-length album released by the band.

Explorations into microtonal tunings volume three: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s L.W. - Berkeley B-Side (1)

Album Cover by Jason Galea

The album is also the third volume in the band’s “Explorations into Microtonal Tunings” trilogy. In this series, which began with 2017’s Flying Microtonal Banana, the band uses microtonal tunings and scales comprised of quarter-tones, notes that do not exist in most Western scales. In standard Western practice, the octave is divided (usually equally) into 12 semitones. However, in microtonal music, these semitones are divided again into quarter tones, creating 24 notes per octave.

As self-titled albums, K.G. and L.W. stand as an attempt to define the band’s increasingly eclectic sound, no easy feat for a band with a discography as large and diverse as KGATLW. The extensive use of microtonality on these albums is even more shocking in that regard, as it shows the band’s aim to establish microtonality as a definite feature of their catalog.

The album begins with the sound of blowing wind, effectively marking the album as part of the microtonal trilogy (Flying Microtonal Banana and K.G. begin the same way). Part of King Gizzard’s psychedelic draw is the band’s inclination towards writing material that interlocks nearly perfectly. The movement between the band’s songs is often unnoticeable; during live shows this translates into setlists that mesh together effortlessly, turning 10 different songs into one long jam. The transition between albums K.G. and L.W. is no exception and the last track on K.G., a dark and heavy doom metal track titled “The Hungry Wolf of Fate” falls seamlessly into the first track on L.W., “If Not Now, Then When?.”

In the first minute of the track, wind blows, guitars swirl, and drums crash. There is no defined sense of time until a pedaling synth line cuts through the noise. The drums roll and the chaos drops away, leaving a tight in-the-pocket funk groove in what is easily one of the best transitions on the album. Despite the rhythm section’s obvious funk homage, the chord changes and melody feel very whimsical. The vocals are sung in a quiet falsetto and doubled modestly on guitar, while a harp-like instrument plucks an arpeggio in the background.

KGATLW always writes music that is very textually dense, perhaps a natural consequence of the band’s sextet arrangement. Although each individual part is fairly simple, the whole is incredibly complex. Every time one listens to this album they are bound to notice different parts tucked away in the background of songs. I recommend keeping an ear out for the skillful use of auxiliary percussion on L.W.; the tambourine, bells, and bongos add an unsuspected layer of complexity to many tracks.

Explorations into microtonal tunings volume three: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s L.W. - Berkeley B-Side (2)

Photo by Jamie Wdziekonski

The album’s second track, “O.N.E.,” a comfortable riff-based rock jam that is reminiscent of the band’s older microtonal work, transitions seamlessly into “Pleura,” a rocker in 15/4 that shows the band’s heavier side. Like many tracks on the album, “Pleura” has a surprising textural and timbral density for a 4-minute hard rock anthem. The growling lead vocals, perhaps a nod to the band’s thrash metal album Infest the Rats’ Nest (2019), contrast with the clean backing harmonies, creating an effect that feels disjointed yet is strangely alluring. This effect is mimicked in the song’s guitar work, in which an acoustic guitar is doubled on heavily distorted electric guitars and a fuzzy bass.

On “Supreme Ascendency,” the album’s whimsical side comes back. The track opens with a beautiful collage of plucked strings and a twinkling sitar. The softer instrumentation continues during the verses but is contrasted with a twangy organ and rough bass during the chorus.

The album’s fifth track, “Static Electricity,” opens ominously; the instrumentation feels dark and a haunting vocal-like instrument drones in the background. An acoustic guitar enters, plucking a repetitive riff which, due to the song’s odd time signature (15/8), creates a disorienting effect as one struggles to grasp for the downbeat. This effect fades in the second half of the track as the listener settles into the unexpected yet consistent groove. It’s almost as if the band acknowledges this, the latter half of the track notably relaxing into a laid-back jam in which members trade solos and improvise vocal parts.

Another effortless transition leads into “East West Link,” which feels like a natural continuation of the jam established in “Static Electricity.” The flow throughout this section of the album is unmatched elsewhere and is definitely a highlight. The zerna and harmonica are welcome additions to the track’s host of instruments, adding a desert flair to the song’s subdued vibe.

The album then trudges forward into “Ataraxia,” a slow-burning, dynamic heavy, reverence to what is perhaps the band’s new favorite time signature: 15/4. The track is memorable because of its restraint: it doesn’t play all of its cards at once. The verses are incredibly barren, consisting of a tightly controlled rhythm section, single rolling guitar riff, and quiet whispering vocals. However, the track’s patience is most notable during the last two minutes, in which the rhythm section seemingly agonizes over a single groove as layer after layer is slowly piled on top. The vocals become distorted and a synth shimmers, creating a psychedelic mirage of sounds. The track ends with a zerna cutting through the mix, playing a single note that is layered many times until it fades out to silence.

“See Me” is proof that KGATLW are best when they sound like they’re having fun. The band’s characteristic yells and distorted vocals fit naturally with the album’s eighth track and make for what is my favorite vocal delivery on the album. Throughout the track, the vocals are layered beautifully and timberally complement the driving guitars, drums, and keys.

“See Me” transitions smoothly into the album’s final track, the eight minute self-titled doom metal anthem “K.G.L.W.”. Tinted with some thoroughly warranted narcissism, the band chants their name as if it is a mantra, while distorted guitars strum and the bass bellows. A track with the same name appears on K.G. and the theme established there makes a reappearance in the sequel, effectively bookending K.G./L.W. as a double album.

Any self-titled album by a band as genre-defying as King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard would struggle to sum up their discography in a mere 40 minutes. Furthermore, such attempts could easily end up feeling awkward and disjointed. K.G and L.W. are good precisely because they avoid this and while the band’s self-titled works do not touch on every genre that KGATLW has explored, they are thematically coherent and can easily stand as complete works on their own.

Still, the albums include many of the characteristics of KGATLW’s music that fans have come to love. The vocals have Gizz’s classic heavy compression and distortion, while the guitars are often matched very closely in tone, making it difficult to discern what exactly each guitar is playing and adding to the psychedelic layering of the sound. The albums include many irregular time signatures (another one of the band’s quirks) and continue to explore non-Western modes, firmly cementing microtonality as a definite feature of the band’s sound.

Album after album, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard continue to release fresh and truly innovative music at a pace that is unmatched. L.W. is no exception and stands as further proof that the band has a seemingly endless well of creativity. Released a mere three months after its predecessor K.G., L.W. is yet another welcome addition to the gizzcography and stands to remain one of my favorite albums of 2021.

Written by Lily Ramus

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Explorations into microtonal tunings volume three: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s L.W. - Berkeley B-Side (2024)

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