King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Omnium Gathering

2 out of 5

Label: KGLW

Produced by: Stu Mackenzie

Because KGLW puts out so many releases, it gives them some leeway for when things are uneven. They succeed so often, that the failures simply aren’t as offensive, both in terms of quantity – it’s a small percentage – and quality, as the bar has been raised impressively high in terms of the group’s consistency, that it can be “easier” to assess a swing and a miss as a good (and more tolerable) try. The other side of this process, though, which I’m discovering with Omnium Gathering: having established an m.o. of reliability, when a whole album is unreliable – even if by more normal standards it’s a solid chunk of work – it really sticks out. The rating here perhaps is meaner than it should be, but that’s due to what I’ve just outlined: KG releasing a disc that feels pretty scattershot, and almost phoned in at points, is kind of shocking.

The surface level of this thing is awesome business as usual, starting out with the extended jam of The Dripping Tap, and then barelling around through soulful jams and psych rockouts and some shredding, metal-adjacent works. That last one provides some pause even at this high level, though, as the band has mostly been able to move at such a clip by, I think, giving themselves borders on each album / release – themes or limitations that help to steer the tone. The m.o. for Omnium was to not have such borders, and instead of making it free-wheeling in a good way, things feel very random: when those metal tracks show up (with “growled” vocals that rather shock when sat alongside the otherwise harmonious, good-time singing and hollerin’), it kinda feels like posturing, which isn’t helped along by the album’s generally tepid lyrics. I’ve commented before on Stu Mackenzie’s unevenness in this regard, it’s just another detail that doesn’t do the album any favors here.

Going song by song, other indulgences crop up – the badass guitar / drums wizardry of that opener doesn’t build to anything except repetition, which is an unfortunate habit of the group when they write songs to fill an entire LP side; and there’s an abundance of poppy filler – stuff that feels unusually forced, resulting in works that feel especially commercial, like an OkGo song. I like OkGo, but they’re not the first reference I’d think of for KGLW. The other effect of the “let’s see what sticks” style is some stuff that maybe should’ve gotten a few more passes, like the group affecting Beastie Boys style hip-hop on Sadie Sorceress – see my previous statement about posturing.

The group is absolutely capable of all of these styles, and it’s possible that these same tracks divvied up onto separate, better-themed albums would be fantastic, but something about the combination here doesn’t serve them well, coming across more as a shtick, and exposing weaknesses in song construction / lyricism / production (Stu’s penchant for a fuzzed out, low-end heavy mix, equally applied to all these styles, is partially what makes things feel tossed off instead of fully vetted; after the fact, I noted that one of my favorite tracks – Ambergris, a blissed out psych track – had Joey Walker doing the mix). In a world where KGLW only releases once every couple years, I might celebrate the sprawling nature of Omnium Gathering. …Yet we don’t live in that world. Here, the bar has been set pretty high, and open-ended sets like this, while not bereft of charms, don’t seem to offer anything necessarily new, or better than similar offerings on other KG releases.