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.
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.