Album Review: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Flying Microtonal Banana

Despite being barely seven years into their career, Australian septet King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard are already one of the most prolific bands in neo-psychedelia. By the end of 2016, they had eight albums to their name. By the end of 2017, they’re planning to have five more. Flying Microtonal Banana is the first of these and it’s easily the most fascinating record they’ve put out so far.

As referenced in the title, Flying Microtonal Banana sees the band experimenting with microtonal tuning. Essentially, the intervals between the notes on their instruments are smaller, creating what sounds to our western ears like ‘notes between notes’. This could’ve rendered the music unlistenable but fortunately, the band have found a steady balance between experimentation and accessibility.

Initially, microtonality is subtly introduced on the opening track Rattlesnake. Its ferociously driven krautrock sound is reminiscent of their previous energetic LP Nonagon Infinity. However, by the next track Melting, the tone of the album is firmly established. It’s more laid back compared to King Gizzard’s garage rock roots, but it’s also more intricate. The unconventional percussion and microtonal melodies create an engrossingly exotic atmosphere. Lyrically, it’s surprisingly aware of real world issues. Frontman Stu Mackenzie gives a compelling argument against global warming, calling “thawing ices worse than ISIS”.

Tracks three and four – Open Water and Sleep Drifter – clearly showcase the album’s Turkish and Persian influence. Open Water’s chugging guitar riff (that reminds me of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Reprise), abrasive drum beat and blaring zurna horns create blistering tension. It feels like being lost at sea amidst a violent storm, effectively reflecting the lyrics. Naturally, Sleep Drifter is more relaxed and dreamy. Its lyrics celebrate the surreal sensation of “drifting in and out of sleep” with a melody incredibly reminiscent of Turkish poet Âşık Veysel’s Kara Toprak.

“The zurna takes centre stage on the closing title track…It has more in common with traditional Azeri folk music than Australian neo-psychedelia, ending the album on a fascinating note.”

Billabong Valley is an unusual track. It’s essentially a western, telling the gruesome tale of outlaw “Mad Dog Mogan” (like the Beatles’ The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill) but the music is still eastern influenced. On paper, it sounds like a jarring juxtaposition but in practice, it works unexpectedly well. Anoxia and Doom City follow. The former is the more conventional, but it’s still a great piece of psychedelia. Doom City’s structure is much more inventive, switching spontaneously between the rapidly paced krautrock verses and intense acid rock chorus.

The final two tracks – Nuclear Fusion and Flying Microtonal Banana – end the album at its weirdest. Nuclear Fusion opens with deep pitch shifted vocals and continues with the most unusual structure on the album, a gorgeous microtonal melody and freakily surreal lyrics. The zurna takes centre stage on the closing title track, easily the band’s most experimental composition. It has more in common with traditional Azeri folk music than Australian neo-psychedelia, ending the album on a fascinating note.

Whilst those looking for a follow-up to last year’s lively Nonagon Infinity will be disappointed, those with an open mind are in for a treat. I would’ve liked the band to delve into more experimental structures, but Flying Microtonal Banana is still the most intriguing and imaginative album to ever come out of the neo-psychedelia genre. King Gizzard &the Lizard Wizard have raised the bar once more, and I can’t wait for them to do it four more times this year.