King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard: “Flying Microtonal Banana” Album Review

Written By: Ethan Griggs

My Music:

Australia has had no shortage of great psychedelic music this decade. Tame Impala – bedroom producer goes full-scale psych-pop genius: check. Its offshoot group, Pond: you got it – and, since they’re close enough geographically, New Zealand’s Unknown Mortal Orchestra. People often even forget that when the Bee Gees first came on the scene in the 1960s that they were a great psychedelic band before being garbled up by the disco machine of the late 70’s. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, however, have always done things a little differently in the land down under. Hailing from Melbourne, the septet cut its teeth on a hazy blend of surf and garage rock – classic 60’s – but in recent years they have taken left turn after left turn, playing with every mainstay-genre of rock from heavy metal to krautrock to progressive, and now – as stated on the cover of their new release – “Explorations into microtonal tuning” (or as I like to call it, “intentional out-of-tune-ness”).

Flying Microtonal Banana is a delightfully weird album, even by King Gizzard standards. After acquiring a custom-made microtonal guitar last year, singer Stu Mackenzie had the rest of his band modify their instruments with the same quality, and the result is an even more mystic, elevated sound. (Music lesson time: Microtones are notes that are not found in Western music; rather than semi-tones/half-steps, these notes are found in-between those notes). The band even went so far as to acquire a zurna, a microtonal horn from Turkey, which provides some of the most memorable, trippy moments of this record. Long-time fans need not worry, however; there is still plenty of synth and guitar to go around for all, not to mention the ferocious dueling between the band’s two drummers.

The album opens with a bang: the chugging guitar on the lead single, “Rattlesnake”, immediately grabs the attention of the listener with its blood-thickening pace and reptilian imagery. From there, King Gizzard… lashes out with the creepy crawling of “Melting”, which would sound right at home on a UMO record. After the sprawling, scarily relevant “Open Water” (“Height of the sea/Will bury me/And all I see is/Open water”), the album gives its first true taste of micro-tonality with the trippy-as-hell mist of “Sleep Drifter”, one of the album’s true standout. Mackenzie delivers one of his strongest musings on the song when he sings, “I can feel you touch me/And I can hear you breathing/Please no one wake me/When I’m sleep drifting”.

With the bulk of the album now out of the way, the listener gets to enjoy the remnants of the fragmented, Middle-Eastern sounds that decorate the album’s second half. The zurna is brought front and center on standouts like “Billabong Valley” and the amazing album closer, the album’s title track. As the first of five (FIVE!) albums to be released this year by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, they have a solid start to 2017 with Flying Microtonal Banana. Rock music of any creed would be stretched to include as much eclecticism as this record does, and we should absolutely be excited about what these Aussies have up their sleeves for next time. Their next one, allegedly titled Murder of the Universe, already has attracted by interest.