King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard are ridiculously prolific. They have released nine full length albums since 2012 and are showing no signs of slowing down. Flying Microtonal Banana is the first instalment of a proposed five album sequence that are all scheduled to be released in 2017.
At this stage it is unclear exactly how these releases will relate to one another but the band has stated that they want each album to be its own “sonic adventure”. The focus appears to be firmly set on experimentation and Flying Microtonal Banana is the band’s first foray into microtonal music; or as a layman might describe it “mystical sounding music”.
Flying Microtonal Banana cracks open the vault on King Gizzard’s 2017 sequence of albums, but have they favoured experimentation too heavily over refinement?
There can be no denying the band’s ambition but at some point you have to ask yourself what exactly is going on here. It’s tempting to suggest that its all a bit of a marketing gimmick; an attempt to align themselves with the great psychedelic rock bands of yesteryear.
However, such a criticism doesn’t really stand up to close scrutiny. The music found on Flying Microtonal Banana is too interesting and daring to be dismissed in such a hasty fashion.
Rattlesnake gets the album off to a blistering start. Beginning with a repetitive krautrock groove, the band slowly builds to incorporate found sound layers and microtonal improvisational passages. The results are exciting and hypnotic. Oddly, the song made me feel like I was a character in an 8 bit video game where the main objective was to dodge rattlesnakes. I’m going to go ahead and say that that is definitely a good thing.
Open Water achieves a similar state of hypnotic momentum albeit with a more sinister undercurrent. When the song cuts out after about five minutes, revealing the sound of moving water, you would be forgiven for thinking the track had come to its natural conclusion.
However, the band brings the beat back and stretches the song just a little further than it possibly ought to have been. It’s a move that would undoubtedly work in a live setting, but in the context of a record makes an otherwise powerful track feel unnecessarily bloated.
When the band reins themselves in on shorter numbers, such as the excellent Sleep Drifter and Billabong Valley, the results speak for themselves. Billabong Valley flirts with a bushranger narrative and ends up a fantastic Gothic Australiana mood piece.
The band’s experimental tendencies are still present in these more focused songs and they elevate the material rather than overshadow it.
There is a good deal of strong material on Flying Microtonal Banana. It’s a record that deserves to be heard and will no doubt be warmly received by the already initiated. However, I can’t shake the feeling that it could have been more had it been refined a little more.
It remains to be seen how the other four albums in the sequence turn out, but there is an adage about double albums that might be relevant to such an ambitious undertaking; there aren’t many of them that wouldn’t be better as a single album.
A specialist and contributor to all things musical in Australia, Alistair Cairns is the frontman to Sydney-based rock band Wells.