King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard have already pretty much mastered that pulsing garage rocky sound, but they are still aiming to release five (yep, five) albums in 2017. With that in mind, it makes sense to try something a little new right? Flying Microtonal Banana finds them playing around with modified microtonal instruments for a slightly tweaked-out sound. Released by Heavenly.
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They have released a small galaxy of records in their brief time as a freak rock unit (n.b. that’s what I’m going to start calling certain psych bands from now on to make things less tiresome) but King Gizzard can always be relied upon to do something a little bit different each time -- which is a relief, because most bands of their ilk couldn’t be more dedicated to their autopilot. Having made a bubblegum psych love letter on ‘Quarters’, a punkish pile of puke on ‘Nonagon Infinity’ and a kids’ folk album in ‘Paper Mache Dream Balloon’, they’ve well and truly championed their lacking attention span and I love them for it.
On the dangerously titled ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’, they unleash a sorta-but-not-really concept by playing around with modified instruments that sound warped and wacky. At points where you expect them to complete a melody quite smoothly, their guitars will writhe, tweak and twang, adjusting themselves to a blurry psychedelia with a mere wobble of sound. If it weren’t for this, the hooking linear rhythms and escapologist guitar solos would make this just another psych standard -- this way, it sounds like they’re abandoning it last minute. Many of the best moments on this record are when their instruments shriek, in keeping with a tune but out of its step -- as on the high-octave bluster of “Open Water”, these moments are ear-busters.
As always, King Gizzard employ one of their best sonic constants: having a little sing. I love how simplistic their voicelines are, usually replicating oddball guitar riffs verbatim overtop, or even trembling with a particular drumfill. It’s these kind of movements that convert the group’s moody psychedelia into something giddy and childlike. As the songs fight a tension between locked in hypnosis and a need to change every two seconds, ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’ becomes a meeting point of different Gizzard styles, of both their ominous rock repetitions and their refusal to ever grow up.
9/10 gbar Customer review, 1st May 2018
It only makes sense that there is more than one King Gizzard album in my list considering how many they’ve released this year, but in my opinion, their first one of the year was their best one of the year. ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’ is named so as they recorded the album using microtuned instruments (a non-Western way of tuning that involves intervals smaller than a semitone, frequently used in India and the Middle East). The songs are still twisting, psychedelic jams that have huge hooks and sections full of instrumental prowess, but this time though, the melodies they create are more exotic and complex (to ears that are used to Western music anyway), as the leads are played by the differently tuned guitars. They also sound laid-back compared to much of their previous output, which is a welcome feature of this album.
The opener "Rattlesnake" kicks off this experiment in krautrock fashion with over seven long minutes of hypnotic guitars, drums and repetitive chants, as does “Open Water” albeit a bit more high-octane and aggressive than the former. “Melting” sounds like a acid jazz/psychedelic calypso, highlighted by an instrumental section that involves a synthesizer and a microtonal guitar playing the same wonky solo line over a simple walking bass line in such a way that if these were tuned in a standard Western manner, it wouldn’t work as well. “Sleep Drifter” is filled with Arabic-style guitar riffs and are perfect examples of how the band are able to blend these different tunings with their own sound. "Billabong Valley” has the feel of a spaghetti western ballad, telling the story of outlaw ‘Mad Dog Morgan’, but the eastern influence is still there as it makes good use of a Turkish horn called a Zurna, which is very similar to traditional snake charmer’s flutes. "Anoxia" and Nuclear Fusion” still makes the kind of expansive, perfectly layered psych they've specialised in for years, with the latter opening with deep pitch shifted vocals and continuing on with a gorgeous microtonal melody and freakily surreal lyrics. The Zurna horn takes centre stage on the closing instrumental title track, and it sees the band at their most experimental on the album, creating something that’s more in common with middle-eastern folk music than Australian psychedelia, ending the album on a rather fascinating note.
The 41-minute experiment with microtonal tuning could’ve rendered the music unlistenable, but somehow King Gizzard keeps a steady balance between experimentation and accessibility, making Flying Microtonal Banana one of the most intriguing and imaginative albums ever to come out of the neo-psychedelia genre.
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