King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard Experiment with Microtones
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard decided to try something new on their latest album, Flying Microtonal Banana. They augmented their instruments so they could hit microtones — which exist in the intervals between regular notes — allowing them to produce more dynamic sounds. This effect helped to produce an album that makes us want to track down the nearest Egyptian tomb and raid it for all its extravagant loot.
Arabic music is traditionally composed with instruments that are built for accessing microtonal scales, which produce sounds that the Western tradition identifies as psychedelic. When one mentions King Gizzard, “psychedelic” is usually the buzzword. Flying Microtonal Banana stays true to form, offering 42 minutes of distorted and experimental psychedelia. Sometimes the Arabian atmosphere undergoes a subtle phase shift and begins to recall the Wild West, as on “Billabong Valley,” a song about a barbarous outlaw named Maddog Morgan. Other times, as on “Melting,” the scale-running is sped up, allowing Stu Mackenzie to intone about environmental collapse, “thawing ices, worse than ISIS / worse than the most deadly virus / living harmonious is desirous / how can we with absent-mindedness?” Titular instrumental track “Flying Microtonal Banana,” which borrows its name from Mackenzie’s banana-yellow guitar, features a wailing flute that sounds like it’s being played in an atmospherically-charged field.
As an experimental album, Flying Microtonal Banana succeeds, but is flawed in an unexpected way — consistency. There’s too much of it. They used non-traditional microtonal scales in traditional ways. By the album’s conclusion, the tonal undercurrent of drones and the staccato scale-climbing of synchronized guitars and vocals become overworked musical themes. If the group had managed to step a little more outside of the outside of the box, Flying Microtonal Banana could have been exceptional.