With the release of their first four albums, The Murlocs — King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s Ambrose Kenny-Smith (vocals, guitar, harmonica) and Cook Craig (bass) along with ORB’s Cal Shortal (guitar) and Crepes‘ and Beans’ Matt Blach (drums) and Tim Karmouche (keys)— firmly established a reputation for crafting fuzzy psychedelic blues, which they supported as an opener for the likes of Gary Clark, Jr., Mac DeMarco, Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, Pixies, Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks, Wavves and of course, Kenny-Smith’s and Craig’s primary gig, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard — and as a headlining act, as well.
Recorded at Button Pushers Studio, last year’s Tim Dunn-produced, 11-song Bittersweet Demons found the band lovingly reflecting on the people, who have left a profound impact on their lives — the saviors, the hell raisers and other assorted and mystifying and complex characters they’ve come across. While being among the most personal and complex batch of material they’ve written in their growing catalog, the album saw the band bouncing between and around sun-blasted pop, blues punk and wide-eyed psychedelia.
The Murlocs’ sixth album Rapscallion is slated for a Friday release through ATO Records. Self-produced by the band during the early stages of the pandemic, Rapscallion‘s 12 songs were recorded in the home studios of the band’s Kenny-Smith, Shortal, Blach, Cook Craig and Karmouche. Conceived and written as a coming-of-age novel in album form, the album’s material is partly inspired by Kenny-Smith’s adolescence as a nomadic skate kid. The album’s world is wild and squalid, populated by an outrageous cast of misfits — teenage vagabonds, small-time criminals, junkyard dwellers and truck-stop transients among others. The end result is an album that thematically — and narratively — is stepped in danger, delirium and wide-eyed romanticism of youth.
Sonically, Rapscallion is reportedly a marked departure from Bittersweet Demons‘ garage rock leanings, with the album’s material featuring strains of stoner metal and post punk. And while darker and more formidable, the album’s songs are still fueled by the same freewheeling energy they’ve brought to the stage.
So far I’ve written about two of the album’s singles:
- “Virgin Criminal,” a decidedly post-punk song centered around buzzing and angular guitar attack, a forceful motorik groove, Kenny-Smith’s punchy and breathless delivery paired with the band’s unerring knack for rousingly anthemic hooks. And at its core is a tale of an unnamed protagonist, who describes his first crime, an ill-fated convenience store robbery, which ends in murder — and the wild thrill the narrator gets from being an outlaw.
- “Compos Mentis,” a slow-burning and pensive ballad featuring fuzzy and distorted guitars, twinkling keys and a motorik-like groove paired Kenny-Smith’s imitable delivery. While seeing the band exploring a more contemplative — and perhaps even softer — side, “Compos Mentis,” asks a far deeper, far more vexing question: Are we in control of our own minds?
The album’s third and last single before its release, “Bellarine Ballerina” is a roaring and rollicking, hook-driven, most pit friendly ripper centered around buzzing power chords, thunderous drumming and a relentless motorik groove. But underneath is a sense of malice and unease unlike any of their previously released work.
Directed by frequent collaborator Guy Tyzack, the accompanying video for “Bellarine Ballerina” is a surreal romp that fits the rollicking and roaring air of the song. “Growing up on then Victorian surf coast, I’d often find myself hitching rides up and down the Bellarine Highway. ‘Rapscallion’ finds himself experiencing this for the first time, and is picked up by a trucker that’s been behind the wheel for a little too long,” The Murlocs’ Kenny-Smith explains in press notes. “Whilst being away on tour when it came time to shoot the video, our good friend and collaborator Guy Tyzack took this concept in a different direction by hiring actors and even Michael Jackson impersonators to capture the chaotic mayhem of the song.”
“’Bellarine Ballerina’ follows a hapless wannabe ballerina, cast off to dirty street corners as no ballet school would have him. He spends all day busking, trying to impress passers-by, but to no avail… only to receive threats and the occasional beer can to the head,” Tyzack shares. “After a pathetic day of pirouettes on street corners, he catches the eye of a mysterious lady beckoning him into a red-lit underground tunnel. With nothing to lose, he follows her in, unbeknownst to him that a motley crew of sewer-dwelling street performers and celebrity impersonators have been watching him with a keen eye, ready to initiate him into their dangerous and secretive world, deep in the bowels of the city.”