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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Intrasport" shouldn't work as well as it does, but I can't stop dancing to it

In complete King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard style, its weirdness only makes it better.


Yesterday, I thematically connected my new Senior Year Soundtrack entry, "Cruel Summer," to that of the day before, "Walkin' on the Sun." As it turns out, today's song has somewhat of a connection to "Cruel Summer" as well.


...Okay, it isn't really a true connection (Andrea). But it is interesting that, for the second day in a row, my song selection is a danceable track by a band with a rhyming name — Bananarama one day, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard the next.


For the uninitiated, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are an amazingly named Melbourne-based band that formed in 2010 whose music mostly falls into the category of rock and its various sub-genres, but whose catalog also explores a plethora of styles. Their willingness to venture into new sonic territories and their seemingly boundless creativity has led them to already have released 18 studio albums (including five in 2017 alone) and 10 live albums in the past decade, most of them radically different from each other in sound profile and narrative concept. I've known about King Gizzard for a few years, and in that time I've learned to not be surprised by essentially anything they release... or maybe the surprise just doesn't really register in my mind anymore.


However, one track from the band's 2020 album K.G. shocked me like no other upon first listen, and it still sometimes does when I listen to the whole album or shuffle through their catalog. Sure, the band will tackle any style, but I was blown away that "any style" included *checks notes* microtonal 90s Turkish acid house. What's more, I continue to be amazed by just how... digestible it is. Just go ahead and listen to "Intrasport," and then I'll dive into many of its details.

As I said above, that probably didn't sound all too weird to you, and that in itself is the craziest thing about "Intrasport" for me, because it has some pretty unusual things going on. I'll start with the microtonality, which I'll do my damndest to explain in layman's terms.


Western music typically uses 12 equally spaced notes, with the interval between two notes called a semitone or a half-step. Of course, this tuning system — like all others — is completely arbitrary; many cultures the world over have completely different tuning systems, and even in the 12-tone-dominated West many musicians have experimented with other tunings. Many of these other systems are microtonal, using note intervals smaller than semitones.


One approach to microtonal tuning common in the Western world is to use a 24-note system is to further divide semitones in half, creating what are called quarter tones and a 24-note system. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard first explored this 24-note tuning on 2016's Flying Microtonal Banana (what a name) before returning to it on K.G. "Intrasport" features just one microtone — a note called B half-flat, as it lies between B-flat and B natural — but even this one sound is enough for it to stand out to my ears. It gives the song somewhat of a Middle Eastern flavor, as Arabic music is often approximated in the West using quarter tones. (The world of Arabic maqamat and their tunings is another world within the musical universe altogether, one in which I am not nearly educated enough to discuss any further; thankfully, plenty of resources are out there if you want to learn more.)


The Middle Eastern setting is furthered by the song's similarity to Turkish house music from around the turn of the millennium. Guitarist Joey Walker explained in an interview that his initial goal was to "make a Turkish house song that Britney Spears could've sung on," and I hear that goal as being more than met. Walker's wah-wah-heavy guitar is quite reminiscent of many Turkish and "Anatolian" acts, both past and present, and the percussion, acid bass, and synth strings are spot-on for early house music the world over. To quickly highlight another instrument, Stu Mackenzie's clavinet line also has a great groove that fills out the low end above the synth bass; it's a part I didn't fully appreciate until recent listens.


Walker's vocal performance also adheres to his Britney Spears remark — his breathy delivery fits right in line with many of her songs, strengthening the throwback feeling of "Intrasport" even further. The tight, yet full vocal harmonies make me think of "...Baby One More Time" in the best, catchy way. Yet even with all these influences and inspirations, the song remains pure King Gizzard. Their exploration, particularly their microtonal work, is unmistakable in the contemporary sphere. In terms of its placement on K.G. as a whole, it also doesn't hurt that the song so cleanly transitions to and from tracks that are more typical of the band's sound in "Ontology" and "Oddlife" respectively — the style differences may be a bit harsh for some listeners, but for me the transitions are so clean that it makes the record cohesive enough to neutralize any potential genre whiplash.

 

All the above leaves one elephant (or lizard wizard) in the room: Walker's lyrics. What does "Intrasport" — both the song and the title "word" in itself — mean? "Intra" is a Latin prefix meaning "inside" or "within," and the addition of "sport" points to the song being about some sort of competition between humans. This "sport" could be straight-up Darwinian intraspecific competition, which could be hinted at by the repetition of "Don't take it personally" in the first verse and chorus; the narrator has nothing against the other party, other than them being in the way of what they need.


However, the "intrasport" in question may also be much darker. With King Gizzard being no strangers to tackling political and social narratives in their music (including on K.G.), the chorus lyrics of "Perish to my thought / My finger is on the gun" make me wonder if the song has a greater message of depicting systemic racism in law enforcement. In this case, the opening lines of "Don't take it personally / This is not about you" take on an entirely new meaning tied to the accented power dynamics between a predominantly White police force and a statistically abnormal quantity of minority prisoners and brutality victims. K.G.'s late 2020 release, in the wake of worldwide Black Lives Matter protests emanating from the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (among many others), makes this sociopolitical narrative all the more plausible.


All this discussion about the track's meaning only makes me more fascinated about "Intrasport" as a whole. It's hypnotically danceable thanks to a soundscape uncommon in "the West," yet it has this underlying, ambiguous darkness that is impossible to shake from it. I'll be interested to see how I think of the song when I hear it now that I've written this piece. *hums main guitar melody as he walks away from the computer*

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