I didn’t really see this coming: Gang Wizard are 19 years old. Since the heady days of 1995, Gang Wizard have varied their completely improvisational approach with glee, dabbling in dance electronics, New Weird America goofs, punk energy, and feedback-drenched screams. Their enthusiastic off-genre tactics were buoyed by a sense for pacing and drama that could prop up even their most persistently vague tracks (for the most part). For careful listeners, they stood out among similarly sprawling and funny-named contemporaries. And the best moments, the ones I kept listening for, came when primitive-style guitar riffs lurched and stumbled along with the kitchen-sink chaos. It was psychedelic and it was punk, but it was also far too slippery for either. These were glimpses of a flexible, improvised “rock” that could be entirely their own. In my humble opinion, this was the best of all Gang Wizards.
Important Picnic capitalizes on Gang Wizard’s guitar-rock possibilities, the improvisational method, if there was one, calling for the players to abandon themselves fully to the thrall of the rock song structure. GW founder Mike Landucci’s teenage sons are also in the group now, so maybe this was the easiest way to get them to play along. And it sounds fun. Seven of these nine fully-improvised, one-take tracks sound more verse-chorus-verse than anything in their recent catalog and more focused than the similarly rock music in the way-back catalog.
I’m always looking for stuff like this: shaky, careening rock-ish music that manages to achieve the melodic familiarity necessary for catchiness while simultaneously subverting sonic and structural expectations for full-on laugh-while-you-listen surprises. Gang Wizards have taken their house style — production that emphasizes the play of the instruments within the room; aggressive, bleated vocals; a fuzzy, over-modulated guitar sound that frequently bottoms out; heavy drumming — and whipped it into something fresh on the anti-rock continuum. Maybe I’m just dazed and excited, but I hear wisps of so many guiding spirits in these tracks, including Danny and the Dressmakers, free-form freakout-style Red Krayola, Half Japanese, and the interludes of a really good Union Pole tape. Most encouragingly, however, I mostly hear Gang Wizard.
The last two tracks of Important Picnic are those long, meandering workouts without which it couldn’t possibly be a Gang Wizard record. But after the burn of the first seven, they’ve earned it. If your cynicism about current improvisation needs a quick sand-blasting, buy this LP now. And may we someday hear a Gang Wizard record with Mike’s kids’ kids on it.