The third album of 2017 from Australian psych-rock genre-benders King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Sketches of Brunswick East, explores jazzier territory than the group's previous records, undoubtedly stemming from the more laid-back style of the album's collaborator, Mild High Club. The two artists, despite being incredibly different on their own, came together to create what is my favorite album of the year (so far). If you like cool jazz orchestration reminiscent of early Miles Davis, complicated melodies harkening back to the likes of Brian Wilson-era Beach Boys, and heavy experimentation with time signatures, you just might find yourself having a ball listening to Sketches of Brunswick East!
Trying to make sense of, and/or keep up with, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard can be a daunting prospect. They are nothing if not prolific, and nothing if not willing to throw curve ball after curve ball. After releasing two albums already in 2017, the microtonal experiment Flying Microtonal Banana and the synth prog epic Murder of the Universe, they hooked up with Alex Brettin of the soft rock weirdos Mild High Club to concoct the smoothed-out psychedelic jazz album Sketches of Brunswick East. It proves to be a winning combination all around, with Brettin's warped pop sensibilities mingling nicely with the sonic exploration that the lads of Gizzard do so well. The album comprises small snippets, where the warm keyboards team with woozy samples and piping flutes to conjure up mental images of warmly lapping waves and trippy colors, and more fleshed-out songs that have a perfect blend of imaginative arranging and melodic charm. The instrumental segments are nice moments of cool-breeze Zen, helping the listener achieve the perfect state of relaxed calm, while the actual songs have the opposite effect and really get the blood flowing, not in the usual sense that King Gizzard albums do -- it's not a raging volcano of excited blood -- but in a more laid-back, happy-all-over way that fills the body and mind with warmth. The lovely "Countdown" has a nocturnal groove and cocktail bar feel, turned strange by Stu Mackenzie's treated vocals; "Tezeta"'s warped waltz and odd vocals can't hide the swooningly sweet melody, which sounds like something a Wilson brother might have come up with while on a three-day bender; "The Spider and Me" finds them effortlessly hitting the sound bands like Tame Impala work way too hard to reach; and the stuttering African jazz-rocker "The Book" brings in some of their previous microtonal theory and stretches it out into a very satisfying jam. It's fun to hear Gizzard being reshaped by Brettin's soft rock wizardry, and in the process making their third album of the year the most listenable so far. Conversely, working with the Australian wildmen gives Brettin's work an unpredictable nature not found on Mild High Club albums. This mutual benefaction means Sketches of Brunswick East is a collaboration that works wonders for both sides and will also make fans of both groups very happy. ~ Tim Sendra, Rovi