With a swirling whirl of wind, Flying Microtonal Banana begins — and what an intriguing place it'll take you to.
As with every other release by King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard — think last year's looping record Nonagon Infinity or 2015's Quarters!, composed of four songs, each 10 minutes and 10 seconds long — this one comes with a unique concept; FMB is, as the title suggests, the band having a go at microtonal tuning. Quick explanation: Instead of the standard 12 notes per octave, FMB was played with 24 notes per octave, meaning an extra note in-between what our Western ears are accustomed to hearing. (Lead guitarist and vocalist Stu Mackenzie calls them "secret notes").
"We ended up giving everyone a budget of $200 to buy instruments and turn them microtonal. The record features the modified electric guitars, basses, keyboards and harmonica," explains drummer Eric Moore in an album press release.
It's as exploratory and experimental as any other King Gizzard disc, this time testing out new bits and bobs like the aforementioned microtonality, Eastern melodic flair and new instruments. It maintains the feeling of frenzy that is now synonymous with this band, at times even echoing the immediacy and insanity of Nonagon Infinity, which makes sense given it was recorded at around the same time.
As far as subject matter goes, FMB seems to focus on fears and uncertainties, from "Melting," which addresses global warming, to "Doom City," about a seemingly post-apocalyptic place where the sun fails to shine, to "Open Water," which addresses the unknown of the open sea.
Tunes like the sweet "Sleep Drifter" or "Billabong Valley" (which tells the true tale of Dan "Mad Dog" Morgan — watch the 1976 Ozploitation film Mad Dog Morgan to learn more) are odd ones out thematically, though they share the same pace as the rest of the album, the same feeling of reaching and searching, with restless riffs and steady drums.
As the album art suggests, there's an almost snake-charmer quality to a lot of the melodies on FMB, which can be attributed to the explorations of microtonal scales here. A Turkish horn known as the zurna, which is played in a kind of gamak style (those expanded-upon notes common to traditional Indian music), is evident throughout the record, which may remind some of the rather manic way the clavioline was played on the Beatles' "Baby, You're a Rich Man." Unfortunately, it becomes a little screechy at times, and during the closing title track, takes on a rather obnoxious bagpipe quality.
But while this experiment (and use of the zurna) might perhaps not being everyone's cup of tea, Flying Microtonal Banana is a rollicking groove machine of a record, as explorative and endlessly searching as the band themselves. King Gizzard are always exploring boundaries and seeing how far they can take certain ideas and concepts, all the while executing them so very well. These are musical busybodies, always gravitating towards another daft and delirious idea. And all that work certainly continues to pay off, as Flying Microtonal Banana is another wonderful release by King Gizzard. (ATO Records)