Wilco’s new album impresses for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it’s vintage Wilco. “Schmilco” gets at the sadness, humor and guitar blending that defines the band’s last two decades.
Calling King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard prolific may be a bit of an understatement. With nine albums under their belt since 2012, and five more expected to be delivered in 2017 alone, the Aussie psychedelic rockers never seem to be short on material or inspiration. In early 2016, they released Nonagon Infinity, which plays as a permanent loop, with each song running into the last, including the first and final songs. February’s Flying Microtonal Banana, while not quite as ambitious from a conceptual standpoint, more than makes up for it musically.
As the title may give away, Flying Microtonal Banana plays with a non-Western tonality that stems from a microtonal guitar modified to play in a 24-tone equal temperament (24-TET) tuning. The 24-TET tuning is identifiable as an Arabic tone system that is based on dividing an octave into 24 equal divisions, rather than the Western 12, giving it quarter tones instead of half steps. After experimenting with the guitar, the group found such music could really only be played with other microtonal instruments, so each member of the band was given $200 to buy instruments and turn them microtonal. The album features these modified electric guitars, basses, keyboards and harmonicas, as well as a Turkish horn called a zurna featured prominently on several songs. The resulting album is an intense melting pot of psych-rock ragas.
Beginning with the groovy “Anoxia,” the group aggressively runs through the sounds and themes that pepper the album throughout. From the jump, the confidence and execution of the trip down the rabbit hole (as most King Gizzard albums seem to be) is as entertaining and provocative as you would hope. “Flying Microtonal Banana” oozes through funky scales and trancey undertones, with the zurna adding an overpowering accent to the main themes. Accompanied by a tabla and flowing over Turkish-inspired rhythm, it is the most traditional-sounding piece on the album. “Rattlesnake,” the first single from FMB, is a garage-rocking pounder that grinds away for a solid seven minutes. The minimalist lyrics and the spacey extraneous sounds give it an otherworldly feeling that finds humor in the slithering tonality. The music video for the track is a must-see.
Flying Microtonal Banana might slip through the cracks for some, but it shouldn’t. The attention to detail and general raucousness alone are worth your time. There’s a little something for everyone here, and the infectious energy will draw you in and spit you out the other side wondering what the hell just happened.