The Australian seven piece acid garage-psych demon that is King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard first caught my attention last year with their debut record, 12 Bar Bruise, a record so peculiarly frantic, noisy and riotously fun that it sounds like The Stooges frolicking about on a space odyssey. It’s taken them less than six months to record the follow-up, Eyes Like The Sky, which practically blows everything they’ve done before out of the water, such is the ambition, scope and execution.
Described by the band as a “psychedelic Western audiobook LP”, Eyes Like The Sky effectively picks up from where the outlier and seemingly one-off quirk excursion ‘Sam Cherry’s Last Shot’ left off on 12 Bar Bruise. It’s a track whereby – amidst the hedonistic, acid roller coaster thrills and frolics of the rest of the album – a sincere love of Westerns and their inimitable scores shone through. Band member Ambrose Kenny-Smith’s father Broderick (of ’70s Aussie rockers The Dingoes fame) was on hand to lend his grizzled Marlboro Man impersonation for narration duties, and he returns here with his own self-written narrative enlivened by Gizzard’s atmospheric, woozy instrumentation, evoking the kind of imagery you’d expect from a Sergio Leone spaghetti western.
From the opening bars of ‘Eyes Like The Sky’, the tonal and melodic influence of Ennio Morricone’s iconic soundtrack to Leone’s Dollars Trilogy becomes evident. The crashing ambience of gunfire and the sonics of dirty twanging guitars, soaked in psychedelic reverb, paints a graphic atmosphere that acts as a precursor to the morally ambiguous tale that follows and allows Smith to introduce us to Miguel O’Brien, a frontier child raised by Indians who gradually becomes “a shadow of legend” over the course of the album. Separated into six chapters detailing the horrors and heroics of the American Civil War, Smith’s narrative is an engaging, all-encompassing experience. His nasal, Tom Waits-esque drawl, particularly on ‘Evil Man’, enhances his tale of an unexpected invasion by the villainous, colonial Americans that serves as the catalyst to Miguel’s transformation into gun-toting anti-hero who “kills with compassion, but not mercy” (‘Fort Whipple’). The soaringly forlorn harmonicas and wailing backing vocals of ‘Evil Man’ further emphasises the chaos and anarchy of this middle act, foreshadowing the obligatory climactic finale that comes to fruition in the penultimate track, where Miguel finds his personal vengeance in bluntly visceral detail.
Overall, the general dusty warmth of KGATLW’s lo-fi, dynamic sound continually complements the storytelling throughout, becoming a totally immersive entity for half an hour. Their ability to rise and fall with the pace of the story – like from the macabre guitar squeals of ‘Dust in the Wind’ to the concluding ‘Guns & Horses’ almost nonchalantly triumphant sways of fuzziness – serves as the perfect Western soundscape for Smith to vividly illustrate Miguel’s progression in Civil War-torn America from apache to veteran.
With this brave yet incredibly exciting effort, KGATLW have proved themselves a rare beast: a band that challenges the reluctance to be ambitious and the artistic propensity to play it safe merely by experimenting with their collective enthusiasm for Westerns. While it may come to be considered a lesser experimental project purely for this fun factor and perhaps its finite longevity, it also marks them out as ones to keep an eye on. Eyes Like The Sky, then, is an achievement in most ways imaginable: sound and imagery, narrative and narration, aesthetic and art, ambition and execution. Above all else, though, it’s pretty fucking cool; and you get the sense that’s all they were going for anyway.