King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard: Polygondwanaland – Album Review

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King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have returned with their fourth studio album of 2017, Poygondwanaland. Considering their already enormous output this year, how do they manage to make this new album stand out? Well for one, this sprawling prog-rock-influenced concept album is free. That’s right, you can go download the album and its art work from their website http://kinggizzardandthelizardwizard.com/ right now. The digital master, a CD master, and even a vinyl master (for those interested in pressing their own wax) are all included. With the release of Polygondwanaland the band triumphantly announced, “We do not own this record. You do. Go forth, share, enjoy.” 

As soon as it was announced that people can do whatever they want with Polygondwanaland, creative fans quickly took to the internet and have already done some incredible things with the album. For example, a back cover was not included with the artwork, so people online have designed and shared their own back covers. Others have even made their own music videos for their favorite songs on the album. Releasing Polygondwanaland in the manner that the band did has allowed an unprecedented level of interaction between the music and the fans.

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Back cover by Reddit user epicwhyguy

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Back cover by Reddit user crunch_be

As for the music itself, Polygondwanaland feels much more complete and expansive than the band’s last album did. One of my major complaints regarding their previous album, Sketches of Brunswick East, was its meandering quality. Although I liked Sketches, many of the songs were short and felt underdeveloped.

This problem is addressed on Polygondwanaland right off the bat with the song “Crumbling Castle,” an impeccably composed and tightly woven ten-minute track. The opening song never falters or loses focus, instead driving forward constantly and immersing the listener into the strange world of the album. An emphasis is placed on unusual rhythms in this song and on the album as a whole. An unwavering bass line and propulsive percussion keep the momentum of the song steady as everything swirls and swells into a distortion-drenched apocalyptic conclusion. As an introduction to the rest of the album, this song wastes no time in establishing a mysterious and grand tone.

The opener is preceded by the title track, “Polygondwanaland” which continues the feeling of wonder and discovery. Ethereal flutes carry this song seamlessly into “The Castle in the Air.” Both of these tracks feature some of the harmonica that King Gizzard has become known for, but they also implement more electronic elements. Pulsating synths and mellotron add color and evoke an orbiting space-like feeling.

One of my personal favorite moments on the album is toward the end of “Deserted Dunes Welcome Weary Feet” where the synthesizer is unleashed to its full potential and allowed to steal the show. The other instruments drop away, exposing the electronic loop and creating a great dynamic contrast. Initially, it sounds like something out of a classic John Carpenter soundtrack (or Stranger Things since its 2017). Then the drums kick in with the bass, adding a layer on top of the synths. Staccato keyboard, howling sirens, and wailing drones combine, crescendoing and swelling like waves pounding against a rocky beach. Finally, everything collapses into itself; the sounds are reduced to a clicking, and then, nothing.

In the second half of the album, “Loyalty” stands out to me for its ominous introduction. The harrowing and oppressive walls of sound and the buried clacking at the beginning of this track made me feel the same way that “On the Run” from Dark Side of the Moon makes me feel. There is an overwhelming sense that something dangerous and unsettling is closing in and time is running out. The lyrics sound like a desperate plea, “Where’s the loyalty?” All of these elements create a suffocating feeling of paranoia.

The album starts to drag a little bit during “Tetrachromacy,” which is one of the weakest points on the album. The song revolves around the concept of unlocking another color not perceivable by humans. Although I can appreciate what the band is doing with the vocal harmonies here, this song seems to lag behind the beat when compared to the rest of the album. As a result, “Tetrachromacy” loses the momentum of the music and fails to stay interesting.

Fortunately, the album picks up again just in time for the last song, “The Fourth Color.” The rhythms fall back into place, fitting together tightly like puzzle pieces in a mosaic. This song is mostly solid, but I am a little bit confused as to why this last track fizzles out into a false ending. At first, I incorrectly thought the song was finished. The instruments disappear into a barely audible wind sound, which lasts about thirty seconds, before suddenly exploding into a short outro reminiscent of “Robot Stop” from Nonagon Infinity. Perhaps this ending serves as a connection to the larger “Gizzverse,” but it feels very tacked on.

Polygondwanaland is a fun adventure of an album packed with many things to love. The overall tone and atmosphere of the album sucked me in immediately. I was engrossed from first track, and Polygondwanaland kept me enthralled through most of the journey. Unfortunately, the first half of the album is much more consistent than the second half. Looking back at King Gizzard’s discography, they have delivered so many great opening tracks, but not as many great closing tracks. The band has already proved that they are talented, and they worked hard to deliver four albums in 2017, but I can’t help but feel that they can still do better. None of the albums they released in 2017 are their best album. Yes, they have released some of their best songs this year, but as a whole, all of these albums have their flaws. In 2018, I would like to see King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard take a breather and take their time making their next album. Otherwise, they will never surpass Nonagon Infinity or I’m In Your Mind Fuzz. I know they are capable of making their best album yet in 2018 if they put their minds to it.

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Is Public Access T.V. Worth Revisiting and Looking Forward to in the Future?

New York rock group Public Access T.V. is back with a new single from their upcoming sophomore album, Street Safari. The band, which consists of lead singer and songwriter, John Eatherly, Xan Aird on lead guitar, Max Peebles on bass, and Pete Star on drums, amassed a great deal of praise for their debut album Never Enough in 2016, but has their first album aged well enough since its release to justify excitement for this new album?

I was apprehensive about revisiting Never Enough. Although it was applauded upon release in 2016, I was afraid that perhaps it owes too much to the New York rock scene that preceded it. Much to the chagrin of John Eatherly, countless comparisons have been drawn between Public Access T.V. and the biggest New York band of the 2000s, the Strokes. Upon listening to Never Enough again, I found the band holds up on their own. Public Access T.V. deserves more credit for developing their own sound, a difficult task for a band that’s just getting started. Comparing every young New York band to the Strokes has become a cliché in recent years, and I feel that it is highly reductive. Instead of focusing on shallow surface level similarities, the band should be judged on the merit of their own songwriting and music.

There are numerous positive things to be said about Public Access T.V.’s debut album. One thing that stands out is the length of the album. It is concise and to the point, as opposed to being bloated and unfocused. Being able to trim the fat off of an album is a good trait for a young band to have and something many artists don’t know how to do. For example, one of my major complaints regarding King Krule’s recent album The OOZ is that it is too long; several songs could have been cut from that album and it would have been made more consistent. Never Enough, on the other hand, knows exactly what it wants to be. At only thirty-eight minutes long, it is just the right length for a rock and roll debut.

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Never Enough

This brings me to their newest single, “Metrotech.” Immediately, this song stands out from everything else the band has released. The propulsive repetitive baseline recalls funky rock classics like “Let’s Dance” or “Another One Bites the Dust.” The guitar adds color, taking a back seat to the vocals and bass. The drum beat is heavily syncopated and makes you want to tap your foot. The backup vocals are high falsetto, but cleverly snuck in as not to be too obnoxious or cheesy.

On the whole, “Metrotech” makes it clear that the band is moving in a new direction. The track record alone of Public Access T.V. makes their next album, Street Safari, an album worth looking out for. Only time will tell if the group will be able to follow up their above-average debut with another great album, but if this single provides any sign of what is to come, I can safely say that any excitement is warranted.

 

 

Viva Elvis: The Album Review

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If you listen to the Beatles a lot on Pandora like my family, then perhaps you have heard of Love, a soundtrack remix album of Beatles music from the Cirque du Soleil show of the same name. The show, which has been running since 2006, has a great soundtrack which succeeds in skillfully remixing popular Beatles songs into new medleys and mash-ups. Love crafts something new without ever removing the essence of what people love about the music of the Beatles.

In 2010 Cirque du Soleil attempted to recreate the success of their Beatles-themed show with an Elvis Presley-themed show called Viva Elvis. Viva Elvis only lasted 2 years before it was closed in 2012 due to low attendance records, so it’s understandable if you’ve never heard of this show; I only recently discovered it myself.

It was while browsing YouTube that I found ElvisPresleyVEVO. This was the first sign that something here was off; VEVO was created in 2009, more than 3 decades after Elvis’ death. Nevertheless, ElvisPresleyVEVO is a real account and it even features “Elvis Presley’s official music videos.” I decided to watch the “official” music video for “Suspicious Minds” which was a number one hit song by Elvis in 1969. Immediately, I was aware that this was not the “Suspicious Minds” that I knew nor was it the version that topped the charts in 1969. For the most part, Elvis’ vocals are kept the same, but the instrumentation of the track is totally changed. It sounds like Elvis if he was backed by a U2 cover band. I did a little research and found that this “Suspicious Minds” is a remixed version of the song from Viva Elvis. After this, I had to learn more about this show and its soundtrack.

Love was done so well, so why did Viva Elvis turn out so lackluster? Well for one, the producers of Love had real talent and experience. Legendary producer George martin and his son Giles Martin worked on Love. George Martin has been referred to as “the fifth beatle” by the Beatles themselves. He produced much of the Beatles’ catalogue, including Revolver, Rubber Soul, Magical Mystery Tour, Help!, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. His son, Giles Martin, went on after Love to produce the fantastic 50th anniversary remaster of Sgt. Peppers, which came out  earlier this year. There could be nobody more qualified than these two for the task of making a new Beatles soundtrack.

But who produced Viva Elvis? It must be somebody very qualified, perhaps a person who knew Elvis or worked with him. Nope, Viva Elvis was produced by Erich Van Tourneau, whose production credits include nothing prior to Viva Elvis. In fact, the only albums he has worked on besides Viva Elvis are Now That’s What I Call Music! 36 and Bossa Nova Baby! The Ultimate Elvis Presley Party Album, which came out after Viva Elvis and features several of the same songs. It seems that Van Tourneau was barely qualified to be the producer of a tribute to the life and music of Elvis Presley.

With Viva Elvis Tourneau tries to make Elvis Presley contemporary. He includes various elements from a range of musical genres in the album, including punk, alternative, hip hop, blues, and soul. The problem is that in imagining what Elvis would be like if he appeared as a new artist in 2010, Tourneau loses sight of what makes Elvis timeless. Adding vocal effects and record scratches might have seemed cutting edge and cool in 2010, but in 2016 these features just date the music. Much like many of the pop songs featured on Now That’s What I Call Music! 36, Viva Elvis has not aged well. The production is so cheesy and over the top. Also, there is no subtlety in the message of the album. For example, ham-fisted audio clips that appear throughout the album tell us how great Elvis Presley was. We know he was great, that’s why people still listen to his music today. Instead of telling us how fantastic he was, they should have let his music speak for itself. But that is the fundamental flaw of Viva Elvis: it has been altered so much that it no longer feels like the music Elvis Presley. These are not the songs that you know and love. Perhaps young children who are not familiar with Elvis Presley might be able to rock out to these songs, but I think seasoned fans will find it hard to forget the original versions.

The opening song “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (The 2001 theme) makes it clear right off the bat what the overall experience of the album will be. Audio of screaming fans and strange clips of Elvis laughing are layered in with a repetitive drum beat. This was probably meant to be an exciting build up into the start of the show and the next song, but it sounds more like a descent into hell. The laugh sounds so unnatural and unsettling out of context, like Elvis is hysterically laughing to himself. Perhaps if there was a joke or a statement that made him laugh, it wouldn’t sound so odd.

After a countdown, the first track transitions right into the second track “Blue Suede Shoes” which is my least favorite track here. This song features all of the elements that make the album as a whole so painful to endure. It kicks off with a generic guitar riff that sounds like a Rolling Stones rip-off. Then a filter is briefly added onto the vocals that makes it sound like Elvis is singing through a payphone. About halfway through the song, it devolves into a record-scratch breakdown complete with random “whoos” and undecipherable words looped over and over again. I hope you like to hear Elvis make incoherent sounds, because then you’ll love the album. After that finishes, the song switches gears again, this time sounding briefly like the hit “Gonna Make You Sweat” (Everybody Dance Now) by C & C Music Factory. The song tries to be about 5 things at once and fails at all of them.

To the credit of Tourneau, not every song on Viva Elvis is as bad as “Blue Suede Shoes.” Sherry St. Germain gives a memorable vocal performance on the song “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” although I wish they would have just let her sing the whole song as a cover. Instead, the song is a duet between her and Elvis. This ends up sounding a little awkward, because their voices are very different. There isn’t much of a chemistry between them, which isn’t surprising considering Elvis is not really there for her to interact with. All things considered, she does as well as she can.

In conclusion, Viva Elvis is not horrible in theory. Perhaps with some better talent behind the project, like there was with Love, it could have been less obnoxious and cringe-inducing. The problem is how cheap it sounds. The remixes come across as amateur like fan mash-ups. They mostly had the sense to keep Elvis’ voice as the main focus, but he often sounds out of place. Elvis never fits in with the music that accompanies him on these tracks, which is a shame because he is supposed to be the centerpiece and main attraction of this music. If there is one good thing that comes from Viva Elvis, it’s the confirmation that Elvis is really dead. We can finally lay the conspiracy theories that he faked his death to rest, because if he was alive, he definitely would not have allowed an album like Viva Elvis to be posthumously released in his name.