By Sam Tornow, Editorial Director
Key Tracks: “Melting”, “Open Water”
There’s no getting around it: Aussie psych-rockers King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard have committed to five full-length releases in 2017 and it has the music community talking in hushed tones. For optimistic fans of Giz and their Lizard Lord frontman Stu Mackenzie, it’s a kaleidoscopic dream. But for even the daintiest skeptic, five albums breeds many concerns: Unwanted commonality, lack of dedicated themes, bland lyricism and in the later stretches, laziness, etc. The first of the 2017 lizard babies is Flying Microtonal Banana, and it doesn’t quite give a clear answer to what type of year this is going to be for the boys.
As with recent King Gizzard releases, Flying Microtonal Banana is held together by a sonic motif, in this case, it’s (well you guessed it) microtonality. For those with limited musical theory understanding, microtonality allows the instrument to move in smaller increments in tonality rather than the normal semitone structure of modern western music. It’s a creative grab utilized by Radiohead and similar eccentric artists. To the untrained ear, the sound isn’t game breaking but gives off a more eastern sound.
These nuances rise to the surface best in the lusher parts on the album, like in the blossoming keyboard runs of “Melting” and the jittery guitar breaks in “Open Water”. Other than that, it’s a tame concept compared to the never-ending rollercoaster that is Nonagon Infinity or the strict time structures of Quarters! It’s a much-needed breather. For the first time in nearly 3 years, the audience is presented with a more laid-back, plain-faced Gizzard.
However, breathers can only last so long before they diverge into boredom. There’s no doubting King Gizzard’s ability to produce fantastic albums (see Nonagon Infinity and Paper Mâché Dream Balloon), but on Flying Microtonal Banana, the air gets stale after four or five tracks. Mackenzie hasn’t broken his habit of repeating the title of the song so many times that the listener can practically read the track list like a lyric sheet, quick 16th snare fills build into four-bar accelerations which sizzle out after a minute or two, and hypnotizing riffs become overdone through slight variations to the point where the illusions become transparent.
Nevertheless, the formulas still work out. The non-repetitive lyrics rip into darker nihilistic themes and the instrumentation blends together perfectly; It’s just overdone. The longer tracks sound like the shorter tracks looped over, which is an unfortunate problem to have with four more albums worth of material to be recorded over the course of a few months. Perhaps it’s a slow start? Either way, 2017 is going to be an exhausting year for King Gizzard.