At first glance, Flying Microtonal Banana is one of the more oddly-named albums that have dropped in recent days. What might be an odder, albeit fun to say, name is the band who created it. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard is a psychedelic rock group from Australia formed at the beginning of the decade. The name for the band came from an amalgamation of suggested and desired names. Frontman Stu Mackenzie (vocals, flute, and guitar) had chosen “Gizzard Gizzard” as his preferred name. Other members however, wanted to name the band after The Doors lead singer Jim Morrison’s “Lizard King.” From this, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard was born.
Flying Microtonal Banana is King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s ninth album, following award-winning Nonagon Infinity. What makes Flying Microtonal Banana stand out is the inclusion of microtonal tuning of their instruments. Microtonal tuning is the tuning of an instrument in intervals smaller than a semitone. This type of tuning originated in the Near East and other parts of Asia, and as such, the album sounds slightly Middle Eastern to an American listener. The inclusion of microtonal instruments began when one of the members of the band was gifted a custom-made guitar that had the capacity for this type of tuning. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard realized that if they were going to use this guitar in their next album, they needed to have accompanying microtonal instruments as well. As such, almost every instrument audible throughout the tracklist is microtonally tuned.
Flying Microtonal Banana begins its first song, “Rattlesnake” with the sound of wind. A fuzzed-out voice sings the word “rattlesnake” over and over to the sound of fast picking on an electric guitar and accompanying drums. This song is one of the longest in the album at almost eight minutes, and the length definitely begins to wear down the listener. The instrumentals are very good, and with different singing might make a more enjoyable song. But the vocals begin to sound like they were being sung by a 60-year-old, two-pack-a-day chainsmoker. The inclusion of Turkish horns which sound very similar to bagpipes, also pulls down the song. These annoying bagpipe-like sounds are a common theme throughout the rest of Flying Microtonal Banana. “Rattlesnake” seems to be going for a more artistic expression, but eight minutes of “artistry” is not much fun to listen to.
“Melting,” the second song, again begins with the sound of wind. The song contains more of the monotone vocals, this time singing things like “the Earth is melting down” and other environmental concerns. These messages, however, are lost on the listener for two reasons. First, the lyrics border on the unintelligible, forcing the listener to strain to hear what is being sung. The second reason is that the song is not very enjoyable. There are plenty of good songs that sing about the environment like “Hard Sun” by Eddie Vedder, “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell, or “Hand Me Down World” by the Guess Who. These are good songs on their own right, but they also have an important message.
There are good things to be found in Flying Microtonal Banana. Track four and five, “Sleep Drifter” and “Billabong Valley” are both much better than the rest of the album. “Sleep Drifter” describes that wonderful feeling of drifting in and out of sleep. The lyrics hit home for most college students singing, “Please no one wake me when I’m sleep drifting.” The fifth song on the album, “Billabong Valley” is about murdering outlaws on the run. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard sing specifically about Mad Dog Morgan, a character from Mad Dog Morgan, an Australian movie made in 1976.
Aside from these two songs, Flying Microtonal Banana is not much fun to listen to, at least not more than once. The novelty of the monotone vocals and the bagpipe-like Turkish horns wears off almost immediately. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard goes for what seems like an “artistic” album, but at the end of the day, it’s not enjoyable music. While the name of the band may be a lot of fun to say, they aren’t much fun to listen to, at least not in Flying Microtonal Banana.
Featured Image by ATO Records