King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
12 Bar Bruise
12 Track, LP (2012, Flightless)
Related: King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard, King Gizzard, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard.
For the last week, the only album that has seen as much action on my stereo as the debut by Victoria seven-piece King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard is the new Warner compilation Boogie! Australian Blues, R&B and Heavy Rock From the ’70s. Both records have elements in common, like Broderick Smith of ’70s rockers The Dingoes, who is the father of King Gizzard’s harmonica player, Ambrose Kenny-Smith. Smith is the owner of the grizzled voice on 12 Bar Bruise’s spoken-word piece, ‘Sam Cherry’s Last Shot’, an atmospheric amalgam of Calexico, William S Burroughs and the 1883 novel Among Our Wild Indians. Another point of comparison is Gizzard’s ‘Cut Throat Boogie’, an off-kilter thumper inspired by a jam on Carson’s 1972 perennial ‘Boogie’ – a standout track on the Warner anthology that took its name.
Both albums also share a celebratory but skewed take on the classic Australian rock sound. It’s rock, sure, but there are some more exotic, potentially intoxicating, ingredients in this potent boogie stew. The results are distinctly local but glimmer with a transfigured view of the everyday. Time feels elastic: the sounds are layered and sometimes mysterious, rewarding repeated listening even for songs that are little more than repetitious riffs with a dose of pop smarts. 12 Bar Bruise psychedelicises suburban Australian coming-of-age experiences – with songs about everyday topics like AFL, surfing, love bites and having to call your parents when you accidentally overdo it at the Meredith Music Festival – all mixed up with silly puns, ockerisms, schoolyard shouts and sports team chants, then run through a glam sensibility and a lysergically-inclined effects board and mixing desk.
Recorded in two locations – Great Ocean Road destination Anglesea (home for some of the band) and a Fairfield warehouse, with Paul Maybury of Rocket Science producing – the first thing that grabs you about 12 Bar Bruise is the outrageous cover art by Jason Gale, a perfect distillation of the record’s outré humour that will look pretty damn fine as a 12”. The first 10 seconds of opener ‘Elbow’ mark out the sonic space the band are about to play in: an echoing burble of hiss and rattle; a single guitar chord that hangs rippling in the air; then a drumroll that kicks down the door and roughly drags the hummable melody across the room by the collar. Velvets-esque organ features prominently, a scything guitar cuts the song in half and then a short burst of fuzzed-up soloing with bucket loads of flange brings it home.
‘Muckraker’ and ‘Nein’ follow, both catchy as hell yet unafraid of twisting in unexpected directions, changing tempo and distorting. Still they reel the listener in with tuneful Casio keyboard riffs and nonsense singalongs led by vocalist Stu Mackenzie that could have been lifted from an Archies or Banana Splits record. The title track has a different sound – thin yet cavernous – that’s apparently the result of being home-recorded on five iPhones. It saunters and sashays like a teen vamp in a miniskirt and would be well at home on a Tarantino soundtrack. ‘Garage Liddiard’ is another standout, with Kenny-Smith’s blues harp wailing invoking the ghost of Keith Relf while the band stomps with gusto.
‘Bloody Ripper’ is initially unassuming, but after a couple of listens its chorus of “All I want to do is sink my teeth into you” earworms its way right into your cerebellum. No wonder it was chosen as a single. ‘Uh Oh, I Called Mum’ is a scuzzy rush of self-deprecating silliness, thumping its merry way through a hail of feedback. ‘Footy Footy’ is dumber still yet just as likable, a roll call of much-loved AFL players with a simple chanted chorus. The last line shows there’s something at stake, though: “I hate what this game has become.”
The audio elements that make 12 Bar Bruise such an adventurous and entertaining listen are familiar garage/psych tropes, but it’s admirable how the band and Maybury keep such a tight rein on them. We can leave adjectives like “unhinged” and “deranged” back in the thesaurus, because the album never loses its shit completely – all elements are contained and focused, never outstaying their welcome.
Yet 12 Bar Bruise still makes you feel dizzy with the joy of uncertainty, drunk on the possibility that the next 10 seconds will throw such unfettered pop messiness at your brain that you'll be utterly incapable of resisting its charms. Though the LP is just a smidge over 34 minutes long, most of these 2058 seconds are as giddily satisfying as soaring over the pack to take a chest mark while peaking on purple ohms. A cracking debut – more please.
by Aaron Curran