After a tireless run of thirteen albums and nearly 500 live shows, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard finally took a break. If you can count writing and recording an album on holiday as a break; but with only one other studio album released in 2019, this is basically a gap year by King Gizz standards.
Fishing For Fishies was born out of a camping trip into regional Victoria; no live shows, and no studios (unless you count the living room of their then label mates Tropical Fuck Storm). Though of course even a camping trip album can inspire a concept in King Gizz; their time spent surrounded by nature provides a familiar, but notably relaxed theme of environmentalism.
With the attitude of an unsupervised high school jazz band practice, FFF takes it back to basics. Mostly comprised of simple classic rock, blues and RnB jams. The band maintain the humble approach of camping, and perform with the simplistic fun of getting stoned in the bush and playing cards. With shameless mid-20th century naming conventions, the word ‘boogie’ appears in no less than three song titles.
Their more attention grabbing prior albums tended to dazzle with a shiny layer of experimental overstimulation, but FFF has little to hide behind. Instead, it grooves with a tighter streamlined formula, proven to history by the likes of Revolver or The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
Also like these classics, some small risks are allowed in messing with the tone of the final tracks. John Lennon recreated the ego death in song, Syd Barrett soothed the palette with a whimsical fantasy composed out of the loop of bicycle gears turning; and King Gizz close by daring to ask the question, can a virtual analog synthesizer bridge the gap from Blues Rock to Psytrance?
The first time I heard the Cyboogie/Acarine single I was reveling in the answer to that question, though being in the midst of a magic mushroom trip I predictably forgot to write it down. I may never make up my mind if those songs now sound out of place, but I can certainly live with the absolute euphoria I recall in that moment, the first time I ever waited until I was tripping to listen to new music.
Aside from these few trademarks, FFF has little of the hooky experimental gimmicks that have made the band famous. Instead of proggy ‘studio as an instrument’, we get some of the band’s less inhibited personality. For example, Boogieman Sam serves as a tribute to their mixer and touring sound tech Sam Joseph. With their own style of mythologising outlaw song toned back to a goofy bedtime story and interpolating Rapper’s Delight, we get the story of Sam as a ‘Boogieman’, whose only scene of mayhem is the dancefloor.
With such a personal touch, they will typically embarrass him with a shoutout when they play the song live. He is clearly very admired by the band, as heard on their live album Chunky Shrapnel, Stu once stopped a show to explain to a non-english speaking crowd that he was about to crowd surf all the way up to the sound desk just to hand deliver Sam a beer.
Rather than the stark apocalypses of Flying Microtonal Banana, Fishies gives us the soothing pacifism of its title track. Why embark on the Thrash Metal suicide mission of Infest the Rats’ Nest, when you could spite media scare tactics partying to the lumbering groove of Real’s Not Real? Instead of pondering a universe destroying vomit flood caused by the last human-born cyborg seeking to regain his bodily functions, we get the inquisitive ecological philosophy of The Bird Song.
King Gizz has spawned and exists alongside many side projects. The next biggest is The Murlocs, the Garage Blues Rock band fronted by Ambrose Kenny-Smith and also featuring guitarist Cook Craig on bass. These side projects are usually kept distinct, but FFF allows a rare melding with the sound of The Murlocs, both projects heavily featuring Ambrose’ signature blazing harmonica and wail. Track five, The Cruel Millennial, also serves as a glimpse behind the curtain with idiosyncratic lyrics that sound just like offcuts from The Murlocs’ record of the same year, Manic Candid Episode.
Vinyl record publishing is a cornerstone for King Gizz, and if nothing else, this release at least gets the credit of reminding the group just how much single use plastic goes through the industry. The track Plastic Boogie not only took its title literally in the manner of Bowie’s ‘Plastic Soul’ era, it also forced an acknowledgement of this hypocrisy, and from this point onward they replaced all their record packaging with recycled paper, and now usually provide a recycled vinyl option for the disc itself. They have all but split from Flightless Records in the time since, but this has allowed the label to flourish into a vinyl pressing and shipping logistics empire for the local indie vinyl scene as Flightless Distro, all still packaged in recycled paper.
FfF is a breath of fresh air, allowing you to set aside heady concepts and focus on the simple joy in listening to the songs. Most fans love to gush about the gimmicks of King Gizz albums, as though you couldn’t enjoy Flying Microtonal Banana without knowing the entire suite of instruments it was recorded on are customised to play microtonal scales inspired by the traditional Turkish Bağlama.
If the feeling behind this album required the same suspension of disbelief it takes to be continually impressed with Nonagon Infinity’s infinite loop, over and over, then Fishies might come across naff. Instead, every track has a pure childlike sense of humor, and feels like first learning how easy it is to blast out a twelve bar blues progression, or to rediscover it in a camping jam. More than any of their other albums, it has fun doing its own thing, existing for its own sake rather than having to prove itself in an already saturated discography. It may sound a little anachronistic, but Fishies performs no tricks for attention, and when an album this fun asks so little in return, what have you got to lose?