Friday, February 24, 2017

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Flying Microtonal Banana Review

Last year, King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard (what a name), released Nonagon Infinity. The album, which seamlessly interlinked all nine of their Psychedelic Rock tracks, was the formal introduction for the wacky Australian outfit to those overseas. In reality, it was their ninth album in four years, popularity was bound to happen. But alas, for me, like many, Nonagon Infinity was my first taste of King Gizzard. The experience was one not soon forgotten, regardless of the fact that the never-ending endeavor overwhelmed to the point of nausea. Their insistence on the craft, imitating 60's and 70's Acid Rock bands like Cream, Arthur Brown, and Grateful Dead, meant not a moment was lost enamored with the rush of sounds. For 41 minutes though, that can become grating, especially given the extremities King Gizzard abided by. If you weren't sweating by album's end, you were doing it wrong. Safe to say nuisance was lost, and with the announcement that King Gizzard aimed to released five albums in 2017, worry set in that over-saturation would become their immediate downfall. Flying Microtonal Banana doesn't resort to the same tricks Nonagon Infinity supported, branching out into new territory just enough to maintain interest and prove warranted adaptability.

Earlier this year, King Gizzard's growing fanbase stumbled upon something that would fascinate anyone, regardless of affiliation; a discography-wide concept logging the incoming and outgoing apocalypse. Part of the fun surely arose on behalf of those cult-like followers over-analyzing every bit of fabric they could get their hands on, but the general principle seemed to be seeped in validity. I don't have the patience to analyze Flying Microtonal Banana myself, but there's little doubt their latest LP wouldn't also fall in line. Like Nonagon Infinity, this album is apocalyptic by nature. The sounds are crunchy, distorted, anthemic, and hellish. Even Stu Mackenzie's vocals feel as if they've been bathed in a pool of radioactive acid. The majority of songs abide by this formula, but unlike Nonagon Infinity and its endless stream-of-consciousness approach, the tracks act as separate ideas all forming under a uniform umbrella. Fear not, fret not though, while structural integrity has degraded for something more standard, Flying Microtonal Banana is mashed together through the concurrent apocalypse and its cacophony of echoing instrumentation. Only 'Billabong Valley' strays from the beaten path, jarringly moving back centuries to embody an old Western. Not only is distant from its brethren, it's mostly superior, showcasing King Gizzard's strongest shift in sound yet.

However, that's not to say other songs don't succeed as well. Lead single and opener 'Rattlesnake' is a reckless experience, one that captures the breathlessness of Nonagon Infinity in an eight-minute trip. And while Mackenzie unquestionably drives the animal's name into the ground with blatant over-usage, 'Rattlesnake' still provides an interesting synopsis of what Flying Microtonal Banana presents itself as; cataclysmic Dance album. That's right, the three-song sequence of 'Rattlesnake,' 'Melting,' and 'Open Water' all feature strong underbellies consisting of highly-rhythmic fine-tuning. This can be attributed to King Gizzard's newfound love of microtonal tuning, a kind of musicianship in which certain instruments are outfitted to run at even faster intervals. This idea can be found all over Flying Microtonal Banana, but is easily seen on 'Rattlesnake' and 'Open Water,' two songs that race across a barren landscape of destruction. These two are not coincidentally the longest efforts on the LP, intended to pounce along like an early 90's Trance track. Along with 'Billabong Valley,' these represent my three favorite tracks, all thanks to stylistic approach alone. Over the two behemoth's, 'Open Water' takes the cake solely due to Mackenzie's lyrical diversity. Saying "rattlesnake" over 50 times really hurts 'Rattlesnake.'

With microtonal tuning comes a fear of melodic loss, hence why it's not more popular, especially in regards to groups supporting singers. Ironically, this nestling fear has caused Flying Microtonal Banana to be even more diverse, as slower paced songs reveal themselves in an effort to keep Mackenzie as the center of attention. For every 'Rattlesnake' and 'Open Water,' there's a 'Sleep Drifter' and 'Anoxia' which act as standardized Psychedelic Rock deep cuts. 'Melting' can even be included in the bunch, as Mackenzie's vocals and the moody atmosphere around him circle at a much slower pace than the interwoven drums and guitars. Unfortunately, while they disperse the much-needed sounds into different time signatures, they lose their tantalizing touch. Apart from the self-titled closer, which is entirely instrumental, 'Anoxia' is likely Flying Microtonal Banana's worst track, failing to become anything more than a mid-album filler. And while the other efforts aren't bad, much like Nonagon Infinity's deep cuts, they're rather plain and by-the-books. With King Gizzard's commitment to musical concepts, treating the album and the microtonal tuning as chemistry experiments makes sense. But in their case, discovery comes before enjoyability, and that causes tunes that are creatively-apt, but catchily-not.

This still makes it an improvement over Nonagon Infinity however, because that album committed to its creative hinge for far too long, almost entirely forgoing memorable benchmarks. Flying Microtonal Banana has those, and enough of them to make the album worthwhile. Even 'Nuclear Fusion,' while on the surface not as declarative as the main standouts, works because King Gizzard actually manifests a structurally-rich song that features proficient musicianship and catchy aspects. Like many songs here, 'Nuclear Fusion' is deftly inspired by the mythology of Middle Eastern fanfare. The aura is certainly not lost on the project, as you can feel the heat permeating from the guitars, the sand eroding over the brittle drums, and the rusted mechanics of a destroyed city lingering behind every instrumental manipulation. King Gizzard even brought in the Zurna, a Turkish horn that immediately transports many of the sounds to a different land. The underutilized instrument can be found on numerous songs, but most prominently during 'Flying Microtonal Banana,' the album's closer. It's wild and not tethered, acting as if it's summoning earth's boiling demons rather than snake charming as shown on the album's cover. Regardless, it helps to give incentive towards the album's aesthetically-rich, apocalyptic landscape. Unfortunately, the music's still a tad too focused on its conceptual crux to be hailed as instant entertainment.

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