Album Spotlight: February 2017
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
Flying Microtonal Banana
Genre: Psych Rock/Garage/Experimental
There’s not many bands out there as prolific as Australia’s King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard with 4 albums planned for release in 2017 alone. The band somehow keep summoning up unique and interesting twists on their distinct relentless psychedelic sound. These twists often take the form of highly conceptual sonic adventures with 2015’s Paper Mache Dream Balloon sounding something like an acoustic LSD fueled 60’s cartoon mixed with campy horror movie charm while 2016’s Nonagon Infinity was like a unstoppable, grimy juggernaut train on a circuit track with the album being written to play seamlessly end to end. Their 9th studio album since 2012, Flying Microtonal Banana is no exception to the rule with the entire band this time swapping out their instruments for their quarter fretted, microtonal counterparts. The result of this particular experimentation is another exciting and pleasantly jarring collection of tracks.
The opening track ‘Rattlesnake’ more or less commands you to surrender and buckle up for the whole 41 minute ride with its relentless driving bassline. Some nuances of the microtonal exploration become clear straight away as singer Stu Mackenzie’s spidery delivery ascends up the scale, “Rattle Rattle Rattle!” in unison with his guitar, which tonally clashes against the vocal in just the right way. Later in the track some harsh harmonica stabs are followed by a short phrase played on a pungi (those wind instruments used by snake charmers you probably have seen being played on your local high street). At this precise point its clear the band are willing to go all in on this weird hybrid of garage psych rock and eastern inspired tonality. The song alone is not one of my favorite from the album but does a great job of pulling you in for what is to come.
‘Billabong Valley’ is one of the high points of the album. The lyrics paint a picture of an outlaw killer, “Mad Dog Morgan”, on the run through wilderness, evading authorities and leaving a trail of victims in his wake. The song opens with a bare vocal narrative refrain accentuated by low sustained cinematic piano notes. The drums gradually rev up into the mix accompanied by tremolo strings of piano chords that throws you into the thrill of a chase through the night before riding into the chorus. The band then break into a ramshackle instrumental featuring what sounds like a chorus of pungi before coming to an eventual halt. The band return with the same refrain but at a heavy plodding pace, almost as if the killer is exhausted and beaten down by the heat of the sun after his night on rampage. Other stand out tracks include ‘Nuclear Fusion’ filled with winding, back and forth melodies and ‘Sleep Drifter’ with it’s almost swaying groove and bars of punching bass interspersed by soft instrumental interludes and whispered vocals.
One criticism of this album which I think could be extended to some of the bands other output is that the songwriting can become restrained by their jammy formula. Going forwards I’d like to see the band develop ideas in songs further with more drastic key changes or new rhythmic patterns as the band does have a tendency to sit in their (blistering and catchy) grooves.
I think King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard have succeeded in creating another album that commits to its concept while falling in quite comfortably with the zany, playful character of their music but there’s no denying that some of the more ‘out there’ ideas may fall easier on the more liberal western ears. With the release of Flying Microtonal Banana Gizz fans were immediately greeted with a teaser for the bands next project, Murder of the Universe, which will probably be out next week!