Graded on a Curve:
King Gizzard and
the Lizard Wizard,
Nonagon Infinity

Look, I’ve only got about 10 minutes to write this review, because I just got a brand new chainsaw and I’m itching to use it on our too-big-for-our-kitchen table, so pay attention. These preternaturally prolific (they released 5 studio LPs in 2017 alone) Aussie shapeshifters have one of the dumbest monikers I’ve ever had the misfortune of running across, but don’t let it deter you from checking out their music.

King Gizzard is a difficult band to pigeonhole. AllMusic proclaimed the band’s 2016 LP Nonagon Infinity “maybe the best psych-metal-jazz-prog album ever,” which should give you some notion of these eclectic Australians’ genre-blending proclivities. They’ve also been labeled a garage rock band, but I’ll be damned if this stuff came out of a garage on my street. A garage with a rocket to Venus parked in it maybe, because this shit is strictly interplanetary.

Me, I’m inclined to file King Gizzard under Krautrock for Kangaroos, because they seem to embody many of the more groovy sounds of Baader-Meinhof era West Germany–the motorik propulsion of Neu! and Kraftwerk, the experimental jazz impulses of Can, and the stark weirdness of Amon Düül II. Drummers Eric Moore and Michael Cavanaugh break the speed limit throughout, vocalist Stu Mackenzie somehow manages to sound both excitable and robotic, and the band’s three guitarists conjure up static storms of hair-raising psychedelic electricity. Ambrose Kenny-Smith’s harmonica and organ provide both grit and coloration.

The album’s title is appropriate. Like the best of Neu! or Kraftwerk this is Autobahn Muzik, designed to put you in the fast lane on an endless superhighway to eternity. Mackenzie has described Nonagon Infinity as a “never-ending album,” with the closing track “linking straight back into the top of the opener like a sonic Mobius strip.” Songs meld seamlessly into one another–I still can’t hear the transition from “Robot Stop” to “Big Fig Wasp” and I’ve listened to the LP dozens of times–and the overall effect is mesmeric.

That said, this music isn’t as static or lulling as most classic Krautrock; these songs can be hypnotic, but they’ll keep you awake by dint of sheer ferociousness. The robotic repetitiveness of opener “Robot Stop” brings Neu! and Kraftwerk to mind–hell, even vocalist Mackenzie comes on like a demented cyborg. But the drums are too clamorous, the guitars too unhinged, Mackenzie’s turns on zurna too distracting–these guys aren’t painting soundscapes, they’re making a din.

When I first heard the band’s name I thought “jam band,” and I suppose King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard are a jam band of sorts. But they neatly avoid all of the ghastly pitfalls of that benighted genre. They spare us the dreadful white boy soul croon, the interminable instrumentals, and the whole “laid back” shtick–shambolic is the last word to describe Nonagon Infinity. Only two of its nine (hence the nonagon) cuts top the five-minute mark.

These songs proceed in lysergic lockstep; Nonagon Infinity is the sound of a Swiss clock on bad (as in speedy) acid. In a curious way Nonagon Infinity evokes Meat Puppets circa Up on the Sun; both LPs settle into a groove that is too far freaking out to be mistaken for funk, but too metronomic to be mistaken for any blues-based music.

That said, Up on the Sun is a calmative, Nonagon Infinity most definitely a stimulant. Ain’t nothing lulling about such speed trips as “Robot Stop,” “People-Vultures,” “Evil Death Roll,” and “Road Train”–hell, unless I’m mistaken, the last-named is a Metallica parody. With the exception of “Invisible Face,” which sounds like the Grateful Dead gone mad, King Gizzard never slows down, and they ain’t afraid to make a (carefully controlled) din.

It doesn’t make sense to single out individual songs on an LP whose songs are designed to bleed into and color one another to create a kind of interwoven tapestry of sound–best to just put the damn thing on your turntable and sit back for the ride. Nonagon Infinity will take you vast cosmic distances and you won’t even have to leave your living room. And you don’t have to worry about jet lag.

Now back to my chainsaw.
Bzzzzzrrr! Grrrrreeee!

“My hand!”

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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