After taking a break from releasing new albums for over a year, the always entertaining, often brilliant King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard returned in 2019 with Fishing for Fishies, a blues-inspired recording that is their most accessible album since 2015's Paper Mâché Dream Balloon and a continuation of their deliriously warped exploration of the sonic cosmos. They've shelved the microtonal instruments, shut down the synths (for the most part), and dialed down their ambitions in favor of laid-back, rambling tunes that feature pianos, gentle vocals, acoustic instruments, and lots of both blues and fancy harp. It's not exactly a step back from the epic albums they had been cranking out, but it seems like they were ready to do something a little more relaxed and mellow. Being who they are, though, it never gets snoozy and their version of rambling boogie is still plenty odd. "Boogieman Sam" is the most normal-sounding track on the record with its choogling groove and singsong vocals; it also features harp glissandos, strange vocal effects, and a long and wobbly guitar break. Here, and throughout, they sound like a jam band that was shot into space and came back to earth with alien DNA. "Plastic Boogie" is another weird one that starts out calm enough but goes spinning off the rails frantically by the end, "Fishing for Fishies" is super hooky back-porch folk with falsetto vocals, vocoder, and typically left-field lyrics, and "The Cruel Millennial" is a wicked blast of funky AOR built around double bass, bongos, fiery guitar wrangling, and tough vocals from the record's MVP, harmonica player Ambrose Kenny-Smith.
This being King Gizzard, they do take some fun detours like "The Bird Song," a sweetly catchy slice of piano pop, and "Real's Not Real," a baroque-meets-boogie song that shows just how brilliant the band are at fusing styles to make something new and unusual. They really take this trick to extremes on the record's final two songs. "Acarine" is built on a rolling boogie rhythm and features Kenny-Smith wailing on harp, but it keeps adding spacy synths and sequences until the song ends up sounding like HAL taking a crack at the blues, then segueing into a shimmering disco groove. It really shouldn't work at all, but somehow the band find a way for it to make sense. The vocoder-sung, key-filled "Cyboogie" almost sounds reasonable in context, even though the idea of synth-prog set to a boogie beat is patently bonkers. Again, the band make it seem like the most natural thing in the world. Once again, King Gizzard deliver a record that lives up to their high standard even though it (mostly) is free from ambition and drama. Now that they've added the blues to their long list of styles (garage, metal, folk, psych, jazz, and prog) that they've warped and remade in Gizzard fashion, what's next? ~ Tim Sendra