It’s been a while since we featured a Rainbows in the Dark column, and to be honest with all the great metal in the last few weeks it’s been hard to do anything but soak myself in the blistering death metal of Immolation, the raging thrash of Power Trip and Overkill, and the dark misery of Junius. But man cannot live on metal alone — at least this man can’t — and last week two fantastic albums dropped that I’d be remiss if I didn’t confess I’ve been playing more than anything else in the last seven days. So I beg your indulgence for a few paragraphs as I wax rhapsodic about the latest albums from two performers I just got turned onto: King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard and Thundercat.
Rock and roll of the psychedelic and garage variety have been making a huge comeback in the last few years, with artists like Ty Seagall and Thee Oh Sees experimenting with different sounds and song structures to evoke the modern equivalent of the freak out. It’s interesting to see this explode in the US, but Australia has been an incredible hotbed of musical inspiration forever, and too often it gets swept under the rug to make way for the latest from the UK or the States. Fortunately once you hear the name King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard it’s a hard one to forget, and their music – a combination of classic progressive rock and psychedelia has been getting a lot of notice, often more for the “trick” of some albums rather than the music. Last year’s Nonagon Infinity works as an infinite loop, each song arguing into the next one, with the final song arguing back to the first. Their newest, the grin-inducing named Flying Microtonal Banana is more ambitious: the first of a planned 5 album set to be released in 2017, the album makes uses of microtonal instruments, allowing the band to use intervals that are smaller than a semi-tone (imagine notes in between the frets of a standard guitar, or between the keys of a piano).
What does this mean for the music? Well, opener “Rattlesnake” is a smooth driving number that recalls a faint echo of mechanized krautrock, but the melody has an exotic hit due to the change in tones that’s immediately apparent. But nothing here is too outlandish that you’re scratching your head rather than banging it. “Open Water” has a wicked pulse thanks to the snap of drummer Michael Cavanagh. The guitars have an ominous feel, with small intricate licks popping in and out of each song rather than soaring solo passages. This is headphone music of the highest order, and tracks like “Billabong Valley” and “Nuclear Fusion” reveal rhythms and layers that keep me coming back to suss out sequences and nuances I missed the first, second, and third times I listened.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard set the bar high for their 2017 plan, but they definitely have me hooked to hear what comes next.
Do you know Thundercat? Apparently this guy has been everywhere and I never knew it. He’s all over Kendrick Lamar’s brilliant To Pimp a Butterfly, he’s played with Flying Lotus on his last three mind bending records and — even more strangely — he’s featured on three Suicidal Tendencies records. A freakishly talented bass player, Steve Bruner has been releasing his unique blend of hip-hop, jazz, funk and Zappa-esque freak out as a solo artist since 2011’s The Golden Age of Apocalypse. But what started as something more centrally rooted in the electro-funk of the late 70s has morphed into something completely different with his latest offering, Drunk.
My first thoughts as soon as intro “Rabbot Ho” launched into “Captain Stupido” was Todd Rundgren, who in both his Utopia and solo projects could simultaneously evoke lite FM and progressive rock/fusion in a way that was sublime. Hearing this in 2017 was a shock to the system, and the shock continued with “Uh Uh” which takes the melody from the previous song and launches it into space as a monster instrumental where Bruner’s bass accentuates and purrs around every chord change. It’s so good and feels so effortless I can imagine bass players everywhere just throwing their instruments down and walking away: it’s over. But hey! Two minutes later we’re back in Rundgren territory with “Bus in These Streets” and mixed in with the lovely harmonies is an insightful look at how technology is crippling us at the time when we need instant access to information more than ever. The flex back and forth between soft rock, incredible instrumental chops and beautiful melodies continues throughout Drunk – there’s even a song featuring 80s stalwarts Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. And it’s great. You also get contributions from Lamar, Wiz Khalifa and Pharrell that bring modern mix to the classic tones Thundercat is doling out.
By the time you get to the end of Drunk, you’re left exhausted but sure of an incredible experience you can only remember in hazy moments. Kind of like the real thing, although in this case you can re-experience Drunk in your car, in the office, with only a minimal change of breaking the law. It’s worth it, trust me.
It’s a huge world, folks. There’s so much out there confining yourself to a single genre or style of anything closes you off to amazing things. Until next time, keep it greasy.