Kero Kero Bonito hail from London and consists vocalist Sarah Midori Perry and producer Gus Lobban – accompanied by producer Jamie Bulled. Their moniker, rather wonderfully, comes from the Japanese onomatopoeic words for frog croaks and a type of fish. Taking in elements of J-pop, dancehall and traditional pop: laced with video game noises and an abiding air of eccentricity and it is understandable they have been noted one fo the music world’s unique innovators and standout bands. Both Lobban and Bulled grew up around the South London suburbs and attended the same school. Looking to break away from traditional (rather stolid) band dimensions and unite with a Japanese-speaking lead – they placed an advert on MixB. The bulletin board for Japanese expatriates caught the eye of Perry who was the first one to respond – thus winning her place in the line-up.
Whilst many critics are labelling the forthcoming Bonito Generation the debut album: the band released Intro Bonito way back in August 2014. Since then – with their debut receiving a smattering of applauding reviews – the trio have been busy and keeping active. The much-lauded single Build It Up was unveiled in November 2014 and featured Perry singing in a call-and-response style. Speculation was abound (since then) around another album but nothing materialised. In 2015, the band mooted an album but instead embarked on a U.S. tour. The guys are heading to the U.S. very soon for another tour and will feature at Fun Fun Fest in November.
With regards Bonito Generation, the band had this to say: “We’re KKB. We make music for the whole world. In January 2013, Sarah saw an advert for a rapper on an internet bulletin board. She applied and South London inter-school music friends Gus and Jamie agreed she was the best. We made a mixtape that Double Denim liked so much they had to release it again and then we toured round the globe. Sarah’s mum comes from Japan and her dad comes from England, so she treats her parent languages as one. Gus and Jamie program MIDI modules for fun and study international pop charts weekly. We picked the name just because it has a nice ring to it. We have some pretty good songs like ‘Flamingo’ (body-positive cartoon flute R&B) and ‘Sick Beat’ (gamer girl power rap bass). Global corporations like Adidas and Topshop recognise the stylish competitive edge Kero Kero Bonito bring to classic brands. We played at an old folks’ home once”.
The band signed off that statement by claiming they had finished their debut album – again, different interpretations as to whether Intro Bonito is an album on not (it exists and is album-length; rather confusing how the band have overlooked that). If a sophomore release or their ‘debut’: the strange and dazzling songs; weird oddities and discarded ideas and scooped up by the Anglo-Japanese three-piece and polished up – like junkmen (and woman) digging for rare treasures; they take long-forgotten strands and ideas and tease it together in a palette that is dichotomous, polarised and unexpected. From a sugar-sweet rush of sunshine to a tundra-based emotional hit – barely a moment’s breath of warning between extremes.
Bonito Generation, essentially, takes off from their 2014 work and adds more energy, confidence and lustre to the mix. Waking Up bursts out of bed with alarm clock explosions and a weary heroine – reluctant to get out of the comfort zone but determined to start the day. A mix of Japanese colour and oddity together with British refinement and sonic innovation – a song that needs a few listeners before it seems tangible and understandable. It flies and dives. The beats judder whilst the electronics switch between disco-funk and near-grime levels of dirt and rawness. Our lead is half-awake and grudgingly gets out of bed but you’d never sense any annoyance of dissatisfaction – there is a constant smile and sense of alacrity from the first bell to the final beats. Perhaps too eccentric and fast-flowing to welcome in new listeners gently: it is certainly very different from anything out there.
Heard a Song is more accessible and gentle (to start). Video game-esque twinkles and keys; Perry Anglicising her voice and adopting a London twang – more pronounced than ever before; rarely a hint of her natural tones coming through. Accentuating a rap-cum-hip-hop delivery: the song looks at (Perry) riding along in her car; top down and stereo throwing out plenty of bass and epic tunes. It is an unusual marriage of U.S./U.K. rap and Kero Kero Bonito’s kaleidoscopic visions. Heard a Song throws car brakes and sound effects; lots of unexpected lines and sonic elements – a song that is ripe and innovative throughout. Current single Graduation finds Perry declare “Today is my gradu-a-tion” and a slowed-down version of rap. Basic, academia imagery – wearing that mortar board and transcending from university to the big world – there is a boredom and nonchalance to the sincerity. Not having learnt a thing or any-the-wiser; it is one of the wittier tracks and a certain standout.
Elsewhere, there is a little stodginess to be found – the album is decadently top-heavy and disposes of its best songs by the time you get to Break (track six). That is a beat-heavy, fun-loving song that wants the bass slowed down (“so we can go take a break”). Try Me is alluring and tempting but fails to evoke the same charms and nuance as songs like Graduation – a second-rate version of their finest work. Those new to Kero Kero Bonito will find much to energy and an endless vibrancy and uplift. Those a little uncultured might need time to appreciate the band and their sound. A few weaker tracks aside – and a sense of fatigue in the final-third – it is a variegated and interesting album that deserves time and attention.
Bonito Generation is out via Double Denim on 21st October