We take two new releases in the world of music and put them in a steel cage to find out who won the week. This is, Album WAR!
This week, friendly pop-psych takes on scary psych-pop as Imagine Dragon’s Evolve battles King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s Murder of the Universe
The American Coldplay.
Imagine Dragons is like a Bud Light commercial with a tracklist.
The musicians involved are all very talented, their arrangements are layered, slick, instantly radio-ready top ten hits. It makes me sick. Far from a jealousy of spoils, this is the nauseous reaction one gets from a tenth slice of cheesecake. No matter how well the recipe, the dish is just obnoxiously too rich for a subtle palette raised on detuned guitars and singers with greasy hair and acne.
There’s about as much soul and individuality on display here as you’ll find in the Wal-Mart discount bin you’re sure to find Evolve within in short time. If you found Incubus to be too “raw and edgy” or 311 “too intellectual”, then Imagine Dragons is for you.
The whole faux rasta delivery of much of the lyrics smacks of the white dude with dreads in community college who thought that his hacky-sack team was “really going places”.
The Dragons also manage to totally rip off Tears For Fears, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, with their cheap, somehow even more light rock version, “I’ll Make it up to You” without a trace of irony. Much of Evolve’s lyrics revolve around repeating the titles of the tracks in vague quasi-inspirational anthems that ring as hollow as their actual delivery if you give them more than a passing thought. Saying “I’m a believer” in “Believer”, “I’m going to rise up” in “Rise Up”, “Can we start over” in “Start Over”, or “here comes the thunder” in “Thunder” over and over again mean literally nothing when you just shout-sing them on a loop for forty odd minutes. And just to be clear, these aren’t cherry-picked indictments but the bulk of the album’s compositions.
Again, Evolve has an impressive tracklist throughout, with “Believer” being downright enjoyable at times. The problem rests with their chief concern focused on remaining marketable across as many demographics as possible with lyrics vague and non-threatening enough to be featured in car commercials. The accessibility of Evolve stems from the album sounding as if it could have just as easily debuted at any time in the past fifteen years. This lack of permanence is not born of timelessness but of disposability.
Standout Track: “Yesterday” A song that actually sounds fun and authentic, rather than the other ones specifically designed to do so. The only beautiful sore thumb in the polystyrene bunch, “Yesterday”, offers a stilted staccato delivery of its title on a revolving chorus that appears to be the only song on the album that was able to escape the post-production polish that hangs from the rest of Imagine like a lantern.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
Murder of the Universe
The latest album from Australian psychedelic rockers, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Murder of the Universe, is larger than the sum of its parts. A classic album in that it does not lend well to singles or casual streaming, Murder of the Universe is best consumed on colored vinyl with a good pair of headphones and a weekend to “burn” while you crack open the thirty page book that comes with the vinyl release.
King Gizzard presents perhaps their most accomplished entry to date. MotU speeds through sci-fi elements and quasi-spiritual esoterica delivered with bare wire drum fills and squelched-out guitars that attack more than they play. Strung together with narration, loose conceptual plots, and digest compositions like the suite of songs “Altered Beast” parts I through IV and “Alter Me” parts I through III, which take turns volleying the A side of the album, King Gizzard is arguably on par with any krautrock ensemble past or present.
Murder of the Universe opens with a recurring female narration that doubles as a cosmological origin story and a transcendental spirit guide that is fairly reminiscent of early-era Moody Blues in the best possible way. While this disembodied narrator could easily get gimmicky or redundant, King Wizard employs the conceptual thread with a touch deft enough to embellish the presentation without becoming the presentation. She serves as laconic tour guide throughout the “Altered Beast” tracks, eerily describing some sort of psycho-delic man/beast transformation.
Murder of the Universe ends with an eponymous track that culminates the cosmological Dr. Moreau storyline carried throughout the album with a maddening descent that features the stilted mechanized narration of an H.P. Lovecraft level universe crushing atrocity across the stars. Self-annihilating lines like “I am a black hole shitting into the void” close the album with more curb stomp than kisses.
The album flirts with the same dangers contemporaries like noise rockers Thee Oh Sees often fall prey to; idiosyncratic sound signatures. King Gizzard is no slouch. They’ve released a full length release, sometimes more, every year since 2011. The catch can be one that leaves you honing in on what your band is and sounds like to a degree so specific you actually lose all specificity. A risk King Gizzard is apt at maneuvering, evidenced with similar aplomb on their Western themed album, Eyes Like the Sky. Both the Western album and MotU are efforts offering novel presentation and narrative vision to remain distinct in a crowded field.
If there is a criticism it can be found in the band’s inability to know when to leave the stage. The album does run long in the tooth with twenty-one sprawling tracks that can leave the listener feeling lost in the woods at times, but the hefty tracklist allows enough runway for the band to capture a cosmic odyssey whose length reinforces the narrative structure all the better
Standout Track: “Han-Tyumi, The Confused Cyborg” – Part one of a trilogy of songs that also include “Soy-Protein Munt Machine” and “Vomit Coffin”, “Han-Tyumi, The Confused Cyborg” is an unsettling narration by the Confused Cyborg himself who struggles with the concept of life. Han-Tyumi mechanically mourns “…To things that a cyborg can never do, to things that I strive for, to things between myself and mankind- death and the vomit. I want the perspiration, I want the nausea I want to feel sick. … I would like to a die a noble death or a coward’s death, a hero’s death or a lonely death, to die in the arms of a lover or the arms of an alien.”
Rating: 4 out of 5
Winner of the Week: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (Murder of the Universe)
No competition this week, I’m afraid. When Imagine Dragons attempted to plant their flag this past Friday with a tepid, rounded corners psych-pop rock release in “Evolve”, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard laughed and said, “One of you magical elves, hold my peyote…”
KGatLW were confident enough in their own assets to craft an ambitious album that is specifically for fans who want this sort of album. For others, MotU will come across unwelcoming and difficult much like other bar-raising sea-change albums from the likes of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and the Flaming Lips’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.