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Kero Kero Bonito: the future sound of pop

| Monday, November 14, 2016

KeroKeroBonito_WEBLAUREN WELDON | The Observer

You made it. After four years of hard work, you stand on the stage at your commencement to receive your diploma, full of pride. When the day comes to an end, you lay on your apartment bed one last time. Now you can relax — until a sudden realization brings a cold sweat to your forehead. You have finished your studies: now what?

The scenario is admittedly frightening, yet that vague sense of future insecurity is familiar to many university students long before their senior year. While most will not even discuss it, the young British pop group Kero Kero Bonito confidently embraces that uncertainty on their starry-eyed sophomore record “Bonito Generation.”

As the record’s title suggests, the band — fronted by vocalist Sarah Midori Perry — outlines the adventures of the cosmopolitan millennial generation throughout the length of its 12 brief tracks, which stand independently yet maintain a measure of narrative continuity. The subject of the record makes it inherently relevant to its youthful audience, but even so Perry’s lyricism is surprisingly relatable — perhaps one of the record’s greatest strengths.

The story begins on “Waking Up,” a punchy morning pump-up track on which Perry sings about her unwillingness to get out of bed before she devolves into a pseudo-rap introducing the band’s superhero-like mythos. Some of the imagery is juvenile, yet Perry’s charismatic lyricism is comically accurate and even quotable, especially when she comments: “back in the place / I’m looking great / bet you can’t tell I’m half-awake.” She is no different from the next person, much less “together” than she may actually appear.

As a former member of a Japanese girl band, Perry’s vocal performance itself sparkles with an overly saccharine sheen, yet the change in tone is effective and ultimately refreshing. On “Heard A Song” — which she often performs both in English and Japanese — her delivery is sweeter than the sweetest Carly Rae Jepsen song, and occasionally mirrors the hyper-feminized vocals of the most radio-friendly SOPHIE tracks. Yet she renders listening so easy and carefree that the record quickly becomes irresistibly addicting, just begging to be replayed.

The record follows up with “Graduation,” its thematic centerpiece and perhaps the track with the most attention-grabbing production among them all. Parallel to Perry’s joyous tone, a heavy synth rips through a trap beat that pounds in the background in hyper-modern fashion. The juxtaposition is odd, but perhaps quirky is a better descriptor; the group sticks out its tongue at club music, then licks it. Similarly, the groovy “Lipslap” mirrors the deconstructionist dance music on Olga Bell’s innovative “Tempo,” released earlier this year.

What is best about “Bonito Generation” is its openness to eclecticism and experimentation. It is a pop record yet it does not rely on shameless imitation or hedonism. On “Fish Bowl,” one of the record’s briefest yet most satisfying tracks, a couple of idyllic verses burst into a hazy sea of melody that recalls the best dream pop of luminaries like Sweet Trip and School of Seven Bells.

The following track, the stellar and heart-warming “Big City,” fuses the syrupy idiosyncrasies of Japanese pop with the cosmopolitan sound of future funk in an ode to youthful independence. The song follows Perry’s journey into urban life as a young adult — it is seemingly the flip side of “Graduation.” But rather than succumb to desperation, Perry spiritedly embraces this new world, encouraging others to do the same: “some days are tough / when you gotta keep up / but it’s all worth the rush / ‘cause we stick around, anyway!”

On their breakthrough record “Bonito Generation,” the playful British group Kero Kero Bonito drafts the perfect pop recipes from saccharine vocals, addicting melodies and skillful production to create a work that is greater, lovelier, more hopeful and more relevant than the mere sum of its parts.

 

Artist: Kero Kero Bonito

Album: “Bonito Generation”

Label: Double Denim

Track: “Big City”

If you like: Carly Rae Jepsen, SOPHIE, School of Seven Bells

4/5 Shamrocks

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