A band doesn’t have to prove its psychedelic credentials by overwhelming the listener with squalls of feedback; it doesn’t have to prove them by deploying deafening far-out sounds or distorted guitars or thunderous drums or overdriven bass. In fact, a band doesn’t even have to use electric instruments at all. At least, that what’s King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have proved with Paper Mache Dream Balloon, their latest release in an incredibly varied and storied career. This all-acoustic affair bears little resemblance to the “soft” school of psychedelia. Instead, it defiantly eschews the countrified psychedelic rock of bands like The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Quicksilver Messenger Service; and is as far removed from the freak-folk psychedelia of artists like Devendra Banhart and the gently lysergic psychedelia of people like Syd Barrett as they are from their louder or more abrasive peers (although it most definitely acknowledges the kind of whimsical psychedelic pop made famous by The Small Faces and The Kinks).
Paper Mache Dream Balloon is psychedelic rock through-and-through. It’s as weird as any of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s previous releases; it’s just not as loud or as full-on.
Opening track ‘Sense’ starts things off nicely, and somewhat acts as a meta-commentary on the album’s conceptualisation. A gentle but insistent drumbeat and a pseudo-flamenco acoustic guitar underpin a chilled vibe that almost manages to fool the listener into thinking that Paper Mache Dream Balloon will be just another collection of tunes to listen to when you’re kicking back in the sun or lazing on the beach. But the chorus refrain of “I know it’s recognisable, but it don’t make no sense at all” belies this expectation: Paper Mache Dream Balloon’s instrumentation and initial impressions are recognisably laid-back, but its heart is deeply strange and its overall impression is of something that rocks, a juxtaposition that shouldn’t work or make sense.
‘Trapdoor’ is an amazing piece of music, and not just because it conjures recollections of the oh-so-freaky acid-tinged cartoon from the 1990s that shares its name. An incessant 2/4 beat creates a sense of ferocious propulsion; the simple genius of doubling the extended and repetitive choruses with harmonised flutes and guitars becomes more and more hypnotic the longer it goes on; and the end result is something so dense and urgent that you can barely believe it’s all acoustic. It’s an absolute monster, and my new favourite song.
‘Bitter Boogie’ comes across as some kind of twisted 21st-century tribute to Canned Heat’s ‘On the Road Again,’ musically if not lyrically. Built upon the same minor-key I-III-V riff and featuring facsimiles of Canned Heat’s droning buzz and wailing harp, it uses this foundation as the launching point for an exploration of many different blues-based psychedelic tropes and themes, and yet still manages to sound like a coherent whole.
These three songs may be particular standouts, but the rest of the album – the sizzle on the steak, if you will – are almost as good. In fact, Paper Mache Dream Balloon might just be King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s masterpiece, that’s how good it is. But even if you dispute this assertion, there’s no denying the success of their brave all-acoustic approach. So successful is it, in fact, that it would be hard to argue against elevating Paper Mache Dream Balloon to the hallowed ranks of other instrumentally-conceptual psychedelic-ish rock albums such as Ween’s The Mollusc or Primus’ The Brown Album.