One of my least favourite clichés for opening a review is the old claim that the artist in question “needs no introduction”. However, there are exceptions to every rule, and given that I have already spoken about this band on four separate occasions on this website this year, it probably is a genuinely fair comment to say that King Gizzard & The Wizard Lizard need no introduction at this point, especially given that I will be talking about them at least two more times before 2017 comes to an end. There is another artist, however, who does need an introduction, that being the solo jazz fusion project of Alexander Brettin, who records under the moniker of Mild High Club. With King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard on track to meeting their quota of releasing five full-length records over the course of 2017, and with the first two editions to this five-album installation, Flying Microtonal Banana and Murder Of The Universe, seemingly not seeing the group falter at the challenge with which they have presented themselves, the Australian psych-rockers have made the understandable decision to bring in some outside assistance on their third undertaking of the year thus far, Sketches Of Brunswick East. With Flying Microtonal Banana being a fully-fledged foray into the world of microtonal tunings, whilst its successor, Murder Of The Universe, is an anthology album consisting of three separate, self-contained storylines, perhaps the salient question relating to Sketches of Brunswick East, even in spite of the presence of a collaborator on the project, was what gimmick would be attached to it. With King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard now internationally known for the stunts that they pull on their records, whether it be the infinitely-looping structure of Nonagon Infinity or the four 10-minute and 10-second-long songs that comprise Quarters!, it would seem that the gimmick attached to Sketches Of Brunswick East is that there is no real gimmick attached to it. As is implied by the appearance of a jazz artist and by the album title’s clear allusion to Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain, not to mention the fact that the cover artwork bears a striking resemblance to the art style adorned on many a Frank Zappa record, specifically the iconic avant-gardist’s 1972 big band-based jazz project, The Grand Wazoo, it should come as no surprise that Sketches Of Brunswick East emphasises King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s jazz underpinnings perhaps more than ever before. Although the troupe of Aussies have always existed as a garage-pysch group at heart, jazz and jazz fusion have continuously resided at the intersections of their amalgamation of numerous strands of rock music, especially as it relates to the structuring of many of their compositions. With these manifest jazz influences on Sketches Of Brunswick East coming together with the band’s earlier, more subtle psychedelic and progressive rock stylings, it would seem that King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard are returning to their roots somewhat on this record, which only makes sense, given that the rigid sensibilities of jazz music are sure to be found at the substructure of their elaborate and eccentric rock sound. Yet, despite the overall style of Sketches Of Brunswick East being the tried-and-tested psych-rock to have bound all of the band’s endeavours together, the pieces across the album read as some of the most rudimentary and threadbare songs to have been released by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard for quite some time, with the record retaining an almost Muzak-esque quality to it that could be said to cheapen the group’s aims throughout the tracklisting. In spite of how cohesive and generally impressive its two precursors were, Sketches Of Brunswick East comes across more like a smorgasbord of brief, jazzy vignettes than a consistent, full-length project, and, whilst it is by no means a bad record from the band, it unfortunately, for the first time, feels like King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard were merely working to meet a quota, rather than to push their experimental stylings into new and enthralling territory.
In principle, Sketches Of Brunswick East differs only faintly from King Gizzard & The Wizard Lizard’s recent output, but there is most definitely something different to be found across the record in terms of the execution of these jazz-orientated jams. Although prolonged progressive and psychedelic jams have come part and parcel with the band’s stylings up until this point, these elongated instrumental passages have typically been paired with solid songwriting or have played into the broader build-up and release of tension across a track. Over the course of Sketches Of Brunswick East, however, many of these new pieces seem to lack the compositional substance of previous King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard projects, to the point that many of the album’s lengthy, jazzy improvised sections can come across as directionless and mindless noodling at times. Oddly enough, despite Sketches Of Brunswick East being the band’s most overtly jazz-influenced album to date on a stylistic basis, it’s instances such as these wherein many of the compositional and structural trappings of jazz seem to be missing, even though they have often been readily apparent on previous projects from King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. Whereas much of the group’s previous material has, like jazz, played with building up suspense before finding a source of eventual release, Sketches Of Brunswick East seldom picks up enough momentum to evoke the feeling that comes with any sort of dramatic climax, with many of these tracks simply feeling generally flat and underwritten as a result. With a song such as Dusk To Dawn On Lygon Street simply switching between a minimal, bass-driven groove and some passages led by frontman Stu Mackenzie’s singular, breathy, super legato vocal lines, with the occasional interjection of traffic noises, dogs barking and general rhubarb, it would seem as if much of Sketches Of Brunswick East exhibits a largely stripped-back version of King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s usual songwriting formula, but this more skeletal structure is seldom used to any especially enthralling ends. Although tracks like Countdown, Tezeta and The Spider And Me fill in the gaps left by this more austere songwriting structure with some rather potent, punctuated melodies, on a compositional level, such songs can come across as mere tasters compared to much of the King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s previous output, with these licks being relied on to carry the pieces for the majority of their runtime, rather than being entwined into a broader and more detailed composition. This is especially evident given the extent to which the band alludes to much of their recent work across Sketches Of Brunswick East, from the inclusion of fuzzed-out, microtonal trills on D-Day to the appearance of Han-Tyumi, the death-driven cyborg from the final tale from Murder Of The Universe, on Tezeta. However, these points of reference are worked into the record in a rather superficial manner, without King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard finding any through-lines between the stylistic themes of their previous two releases and those of Sketches Of Brunswick East, to the point that the inclusion of such ideas, if anything, seems to clash with the wildly different tone of their jazzier pursuits across this project, as if they were included merely for the sake of fan service. Undoubtedly, the group certainly touches on some striking melodic tones and compelling performances across the tracklisting, particularly on The Book and A Journey To S(Hell), but a great deal of the album comes across as a selection of undeveloped ditties that are unequivocally pleasing to the ear, but seem rather shallow in their vague aesthetic appeal.
It’s at this point wherein the structure of Sketches Of Brunswick East as a whole comes into question. With the tracklisting being a continuously flowing tapestry of songs, much in the same vein as past projects from King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard like Nonagon Infinity or Murder Of The Universe, the group places more of an emphasis on the fluidity of the record as a cohesive entity, rather than on the strength of individual songs. Although an album like Nonagon Infinity still boasts numerous songs that stand-out in the tracklisting, even in spite of its uninterrupted, fluent nature, part of the core appeal of records such as Murder Of The Universe is the extent to which the project, as a whole, focusses on the building up and release of tension across the entirety of the tracklisting, as well as amidst individual compositions. In the case of Sketches Of Brunswick East, whilst all the tracks are indeed woven together rather seamlessly, as to create a free-flowing structure similar to that of Murder Of The Universe, the tracklisting is missing the same focussed sense of direction, with the project, ironically, lacking the dramatic tension that comes as an intrinsic feature of many of the jazz traditions from which King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard and Mild High Club are pulling over the course of the record. The decision to include a title track that is divided into three parts and placed at the beginning, the middle and the end of the album, for instance, could only really be said to interrupt the fluidity of the tracklisting, as opposed to binding the whole project together as was likely intended, with its latter two instalments reseting any semblance of momentum that the album had gained up until these points. Whilst the placement of some of the album’s breezier, mellower pieces, such as Countdown and Tezeta, towards the front of the tracklisting and some of the more intense songs, like The Book and A Journey To S(Hell), closer to its tail end makes sense in terms of the pacing of the record, the fact that Rolling Stoned and You Can Be Your Silhouette — which are two especially nonchalant tracks on both a stylistic and thematic basis, given their lyrical subject matter — sneak in at the very end of the album leaves Sketches Of Brunswick East hanging on a slight anticlimax. What’s perhaps most frustrating about this is the fact that, taking each individual cut at face value, it would seem that the tracklisting could have been pieced together in a slightly different manner as to accentuate the album’s jazzy underpinnings and reflect them through a well-worked structure. It seems as if the individual components are here for fashioning an arresting build-up and release of tension over the course of the record, but, as the end product stands, Sketches Of Brunswick East witnesses King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard and Mild High Club only somewhat take advantage of the variation in tone present across the album.
With King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard being as prolific as they are, it’s truly impressive just how innovative they have remained over the course of their career, whilst seldom stumbling in terms of the overall quality of the music that they have put out. Likewise, with each new release from the band has come a defined sense of purpose with regards to how the project advances their artistry, with even their records that could be said to be gimmicky being integral to King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s artistic legacy. Whilst Sketches Of Brunswick East by no means tarnishes this trend, with its placement of the group’s jazz influence more towards the forefront of their compositional style furthering their creative capacity in a similar fashion to their recent material, it nevertheless shows signs of King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard struggling to entirely meet the artistic strictures that they have placed on themselves with their promise of releasing five records over the course of 2017. Whilst this is primarily evidenced by the notably underwritten nature of much of the album, the fact that Sketches Of Brunswick East seems far more dependent on its aesthetic and overall gimmick than the band’s last handful of records also alludes to the writing process, in general, being less inspired unfortunately. Ultimately, although its position in the group’s discography makes sense, the jazzy ear candy of Sketches Of Brunswick East rarely pushes past the point of being pleasant to listen to and into the same experimental territory and structural depth of past projects from King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, with its bearing on the band’s artistry being relatively minimal as a result.
The Vinyl Verdict: 6/10