“Jack of all trades, master of none, oftentimes better than a master of one.”
It was her favourite King Gizzard record, Kelly told me.
But I hadn’t listened yet; I hadn’t really been catching up on missed records at all while riding the inter-cities train and ruing a cold just caught on the way back. Having spent the late April day roaming the battlements, greeneries and streets, spinning flow staff in the park, writing sloppy verses in the gardens, remarking tiny insects exploring the ridged roll of bloodshot knuckle hills and the inherent nihilism creeping (it’s always either washing or creeping, I’ve yet to hear an in-between) on them, as all crap poetry is written: rich in theme, poor in language. I was unhappy to say the least—the teaching assistant program ended, my creative well posted with signs all over (“come back tomorrow,” for a baker’s dozen of days in a row) and nothing but immense loneliness to drink from—Billy Joel, you sonuvabitch!—I was finally homesick, at the exact moment I was leaving home, to write and fail my ass back Stateside. Where did I want to be? Just about anywhere goddamn else. Probably fishing for fishies.
Barring that, I put on King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s latest, Fishing for Fishies, sat back and thought about it, drifting off, fishing for fishies. Result: not a lick but a couple of nonsense sentences and charivari crosses of word and sounds, a hubba-baloo of bullshit about billabongs and rig-a-ma-rols, how their music is as country as some raftin’ buddies chooglin’ down the Delta and how the Lizard Wizard portends to it, I mean damn to hell, King Gizzard sound like they is! Is a ridin’ down in a done danged-up dingy, crusin’ in crew shirts and lookin’ and hookin’ for them little wrigglin’ aquaticals, searchin’ for the catch, that is, rootsy catfish n’ crawdads, mud slicking muck suckers speckled and squirmy, cleaned (just a lil bit) and served on horns, keyboards and guitars for the crowds all ready and a-steamwhistlin’ like the Prides o’ the Mississippi. But from raft to riverboat, no Tom Sawyer ain’t got nothin’ on our cultured Huckleberry Finns, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. But spend much longer thinkin’ like this and your brain’ll turn to fucking Gollumite mush.
Yet, I’d been pretty dead-set on the merits of King Gizzard’s Fishing for Fishies as a prime example of Zeppelin’s and T.Rex’s influence in rock, since my late-April train ride from Pau back to Lannemezan, debating why no one was quite brave enough to broach playing a brand of blues-rock as titanic as Led Zeppelin or T.Rex put-together while also sounding so fresh; perhaps the freshness is because King Gizzard do it well, but they don’t deny their influence, aren’t stupid enough to claim it as wholly original work with no outside tastes coming to play (Greta Van Fleet will forever be marked for death for this very reason). Having spoken with quasi-band-leader Stu MacKenzie after a Crystal Ballroom gig in Portland last summer, he made it quite clear interviews opportunities are rare for a band that likes to speak through their music; and the long-player paints it in picket-fence clarity: Bolan, Zoso, Jonesie, Bonzo and Percy Plant were here. But I didn’t like how simplistic this sounded—it was too neat—throw in some turn-of-the-decade Rush/Who commentary and I could tie this off nicely with a cute little bow and a happy wrapper.
Fuck that noise; Stu Mackenzie, Ambrose Kenny-Smith, Joey Walker, Cook Craig, Lucas Skinner, Michael Cavanagh and Eric Moore have one more artist up their sleeve, not exactly a sonic influence, but a kindred influence, something that you can only hear or feel when you’re bugging out listenin’ and thinkin’ and listenin’ and thinkin’ some more on the subject. King Gizzard’s uncanny sense for the Delta that their river raft record skims right across haunting me—there’s a reason this piece’s first thoughts were the similarities between backwoods and bushman dialects—perhaps an insight into how billabongs and marshwoods produce similar colloquial jowlsome jargon. Well, I searched and searched and searched my worried mind of sixties blues-rock in the name of comparative merits tossing out names like the Animals, the Box Tops, Credence Clearwater Revival, the Holding Company, Canned Heat, Johnny Winter or Rory Gallagher but found nothing, coming up short on a manic swamp blues sound with which I could compare the King Gizzard of Fishing for Fishies, because, to be honest, this is all covering the fact that these bluesmen are just recyclers of T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, BB King and Chuck Berry riffs. So it was on a rainy Memorial Day that I decided to enjoy one last session soundtracked to Fleetwood Mac live in Boston, 1970 and whether it was the colitas in the air or the fact that Peter Green is a downright spooky frontman, I came out with the beliefs that:
- Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac fully imbibed in and embrace such sagacity for the sticks, what with Peter Green taking enough acid to qualify as a government experiment, what with Danny Kirwan breathing beer and other fermented products, what with Jeremy Spencer basically joining a cult, what with Mick Fleetwood and John McVie both trying to keep it all patched together with a rock solid boogie (hence Fleetwood Mac) represents the fundamental core of delta blues: not knowing what tomorrow will bring when yesterday was some serious pain. That may drive every stinging blues riff in existence, but how does that not drive a person insane?
- This acumen, having suffered decades-upon-decades of mutation muzakal, twisted and warped towards ends eclectic, if not downright defrauded as cypress for swamp ash or whatever-metaphor-have-you, has been sufficiently preserved and spoken for in Fishing for Fishies as to make you believe that the dinosaurs truly can be resurrected from the blood of a amber-trapped mosquito. That is to say, the crazy bastards of King Gizzard did it, they actually did it. They roar like Zeppelin, stomp like a T.Rex and boogie like a Fleetwood Mac-o-saurus.
But the truth of the matter is that the kings of prog-garage are the ultimate shapeshifters; go through their discography and you will find at least one insanely enjoyable record.
Psychedelic garage? Float Along – Fill Your Lungs; Progressive garage? I’m In Your Mind Fuzz; Heavy metal? Murder of the Universe; Jazz metal? Nonagon Infinity; Psychedelic jazz? Quarters!; Spaghetti western? Eyes Like the Sky; Worldbeat? Flying Microtonal Banana; Surf rock? 12 Bar Bruise; Jazz rock? Sketches of Brunswick East; Folk Rock? Paper Mâché Dream Balloon; Acid rock? Polygondwanaland; Psychedelic rock? Oddments; Progressive rock? Gumboot Soup; Roots rock? Fishing for Fishies.
This is a list of 14 records which have been made in roughly seven years. Essentially two records per year, a classic record release rate of the classic rock band, that has produced a body of work edging past any somesuch classic lifespan. Most groups either fade or flame out—the toll of rock n’ roll, our mythologizing, as it were—instead of bathing at the summit of their powers at seven years. King Gizzard than, have passed over the limit, the line, the demarcation barring the Traffics from the Jethro Tulls, the Faces from the Rolling Stones, the Bands from the Grateful Deads, Jeff Beck’s Groups from the Led Zeppelins, the Bluesbreakers from the Fleetwood Macs. That’s not to say these former groups were right to disappear because of a lack of longevity, but there is a point where a group moves from a feature to a standard, when we start institutionalizing their contributions, mythologizing their characters as Ellen Willis and Lester Bangs rolls in their graves at the thought that we might actually be searching for the next Jerry Garcia, the next John Lennon, the next Lou Reed. The Death Dwarves should be out in force by now, rendering unto us another hero which we, the mob, can pull, push, shove and tip over like a fallen despot’s statue. Will we do that with the rapidly rising edifice of the King? Have we learned any better? I don’t know and my misanthropy hesitates blinking even once for the fact that rock is forever a tenuous balance between the awesome and the improvised; the practiced and the imprudent; a game of chicken jousted by the skilled and the fraudulent (until the latter, too, becomes a clockwork machine in the gears behind the ears of his listeners or a fireball finally flaming out re the Stooges or the Replacements, respectively). There is also no mark against that most of these bands had one particular sound; that Credence Clearwater Revival died once their bayou boogie roots began to lose its moonshine isn’t a condemnation but a confirmation of the nomadic nature of inspiration. Music may never die, but muses will move on. Hence my unquantifiable obsession for that crossover period from the Sixties into the Seventies on to the (early, early) Eighties. Bands died, but artists continued to live, the 27 Club not withstanding. The skilled artists found new styles, new subject matter to mull over and write with, the unskilled did not and were not heard from again1.
1For all the thrashing glam and beauty of the New York Dolls, their post-proto-punk careers go unheralded because it struggled against the mixed glass ceiling of their commitment and their commercial viability; who really was ready to listen to the aging punk-of-the-party in 1976? Everyone was very much still trying to hold on to their vestiges of youth (or did disco and punk lie to me?) not be reminded of their aging. Perhaps, the old rock writers were right: rock and roll is about the nonscript, the stranger picking up a guitar and just doing something with it, lunatic fiddling rather than expertly playing with it. I can’t help but be reminded of that Sweet chorus: “And the man at the back said/ Everyone attack and it turned into a ballroom ablitz/ And the girl in the corner said/ Boy, I wanna warn ya, it’ll turn into a ballroom blitz.” Once that blitz is over however, what’s left? I may be a self-destructive person, but after a while, I want to know what my corpse will fertilize, what the remains of my music will inspire. This might be the underlying point to my obsession with transforming my mind to a wholly cybernetic feature in order to answer the proverbial question: “what’s next?”
As for our subject seven-piece ultracollective, their status as skilled was postmarked in 2017, whence they released a grand total of six records (five as sole album artists and one as a collaboration with the mild High Club) all dabbling in polyrhythmic, exotic instrumentation and nonstandard time signatures for substance in the same way that a mad scientist dabbles liberally to find solutions to problems no one is particularly asking for. Alchemists with an Electronics degree; musicians who specialize in maths. It would be wrong to label this band an institution when their label, Flightless, would deserve such a surname as the first independent Australian imprint of international recognition akin to the Elephant Six, an Umbrella Academy of producer-musicians for which King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are the deans: Stu Mackenzie, Ambrose Kenny-Smith, Cook Craig, Michael Cavanagh, Eric Moore, Lucas Skinner and Joe Walker. Their chameleon style mixed with an unfathomable work effort has earned my respect as (probably) the best damn modern rock outfit this side of the millennium if not the most productive, most active and best likened to a certifiable release-date force of nature, only taking 2018 off in order to recuperate on a whirlwind world tour, selling out theatre after theatre, running from crowd to crowd, blowing out performance after performance. My own experience of the King live at the Crystal Ballroom in 2018 was capped off by crowd surfing, an interminable mosh pit and beers galore all pared to a setlist that dragged the nerves from your flesh and set them alight with a rhythmic timbre pyre doused in bass-o-line, or the “Cruel Milennial” isn’t my favourite tune on Fishing for Fishies.
Can’t relate face to face with modern day youth
Outdated, the post-millennial will get you
I was born in the echo boom
Yet I rust as the cruel millennial
– “The Cruel Millenial”
Which it probably isn’t, because the tracklist on Fishing for Fishies is chockfull of rootsy guitars, loose-strung strings and Bolanite vocals turned suddenly to mathematics, synthesizers and unidentified melodic objects from planet Aphex Twin rerendered into lo-fi funkadelia. Yes, in microcosmic fashion, Stu Mackenzie, Ambrose Kenny-Smith, Cook Craig, Michael Cavanagh, Eric Moore, Lucas Skinner and Joe Walker demonstrate what makes a good band great: an ability for metamorphosis. And they do it before our very ears within a record. It may not be a long-player of my desire despite my adamant admiration for the groups and time periods it pulls from (I love Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, Funkadelic et al more than bands influenced by Zeppelin, Mac and Clapton et al) but it’s a damn testament to the skill of the premier prog-garage band; so Fishing for Fishies may remind me of all sorts of connections between Zeppelin or Rush or Fleetwood Mac, but in truth King Gizzard are the Genesis or Flaming Lips of their day, simultaneously indulging on the drug of workoholism and weaving together the eclectic world music interests of an art rock collective with the grit and mania of a garagepunk group angry with modernia that allows me to skip over a lukewarm reaction to the casual throwback “Bird Song” and the groovy “Real’s Not Real” as a pair of Sketches at Brunswick East b-side if there ever were one. They’re probably as close to “calm” cuts this long-player could get; the rest of this record is a rocket-strapped raft, a mission on the Mississippi travelling through the Delta (“Fishing for Fishies”) to the bayou (“This Thing”) before beaming up (“Acarine” and “Cyboogie”). For every bit that this record may sound a casual perusal of jazzrock turned gumbo garage, the moment this album shifts unto the electrorock odyssey of “Acarine” is what elevates it to an experience-of-the-year level.
And while we can all agree that King Gizzard, our industrious, psychonautic Fëanor, have yet to craft their Silmarils, we can also agree that the royal jewel collection is vast and only growing vaster. It’s easy to bet against a fourth or fifth record’s shot at excellency, but the Kings are fast approaching their fifteenth effort, Infest the Rat’s Nest, and the closest they came to stumbling might have been Murder of the Universe, but on balance, they used the dizzying off-kilter Black Sabbath-by-Flaming Lips lunacy to catapult into Sketches at Brunswick East, Polygondwanaland and Gumboot Soup. And any jewel before or since had a glint to it, something soliciting someone and their undivided interest. It’s almost an impossibility for me to identify my favourite record of theirs; to be trite, it depends on my mood, but what I can say is that, increasingly, there is a King Gizzard record for any kind of mood and now there is one for all my Zeppelinite, T. Rexian, Fleetwood Macker needs.
When was the last time you could say that about a band?
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Fishing For Fishies
Genre: Progressive Rock, Blues Rock
- “Fishing for Fishies”
- “Boogieman Sam”
- “The Bird Song”
- “Plastic Boogie”
- “The Cruel Millennial”
- “Real’s Not Real”
- “This Thing”