Review Summary: Past and future bangers
ll. Kero Kero Bonito are chill and I’m jealous. Their deadpan is chill, their bangers are chill, their frankness is chill, the bulk of their detractors do not come off as chill and are therefore unfit for comment, and, conversely, people will assume you are chill for enjoying them no matter how much wider anxiety or inadequacy you may be directly addressing by specific means of deadpan, frank, chill bangers. They are chill. Good for them! This hasn’t stopped them from remodelling their sound at every turn, so much so that each of their works feels like a departure more than a coherent evolution.
This may seem sporadic, but it’s been underpinned by clear, demonstrable, linear growth in their subject matter. Just look at their conveniently short list of titles: debut Bonito Generation
was a caption album, sardonic and willfully shallow in its instant gratification; follow-up Time ‘n’ Place
graduated into emotional snapshots, dressed in choppy indie rock because it had enough substance to withstand a little artsy fracture; and now, with the Civilisation
EPs, they turn their hand to sweeping allegories and alternate realities, backlit with enough confidence to cast long shadows either side of the right-here, right-now. Take the shifting attitudes towards ennui between the whatever-frolic “Break”, the uneasy portrait of solitary depression “Time Today” and this EP’s lockdown portrait of society in stasis “21/04/20”: there’s a coherent development there if ever I’ve heard one. If you feel like geeking out, you could call it an upward trajectory
; none of them exactly demand an attention span, but they certainly show off increasing increments of thoughtfulness. The Kero Kero Bonito aesthetic is still quintessential chill, but let no-one say they haven’t taken it places.
Let’s talk more about Civilisation II
because 1) that is the name of this release, 2) it is a new release, and 3) the three songs on it are very, very good. Similar to 2019’s Civilisation I
, this EP shows the band exploring synth pop with their most fluid arrangements and ambitious songwriting to date. Presumably benefitting from an extensive Covid-endorsed delay, Civilisation II
is the more substantial and overall impressive release of the two, showcasing stronger hooks, more versatile songwriting and a delicious enthusiasm for synth pyrotechnics.
Opener-single-fairytale “The Princess and the Clock” is an appropriate orientation, starting out familiarly enough with quaint Animal Crossing-esque melodies and Sarah Midori Perry’s best daydream voice, before exploding into a technicolour synth flurry that borders on not-chill but is vintage enough in its tones and inflections to land in endearing territory. Producers/loveable nerd-boys Gus Lobban and Jamie Bulled have done themselves proud throughout this EP, getting the best out of each arrangement with ever-inventive shifts of texture and laying down synth tones that will doubtless be a dream come true for returning fans of their chiptune proclivities. These are performed entirely on analog kit for brownie points and amped up with extra bitcrush for scout cred. Nice work, nerds. Anyhow, “The Princess and the Clock” turns a wistful mapping of growing into oneself inside an ivory tower into a sugary delight; it sums the shape and scope of this EP series mucho neatly. How civilising.
From the sublime to the mundane, “21/04/20” is a look into quarantine’s kitchen sink, appropriately meandering in its dear diary
-isms and by and large the most understated track on the whole Civilisation
project. I say ‘mundane’, but no-one carries that quality with quite as much tongue-in-cheek flair as Perry; with her unpretentious lyricism and bittersweet delivery, she reasserts her mastery of that all-important easydaze drawl, but it’s not until the third and final track “Well Rested” that she really ups the ante. By far the most ambitious (not to mention longest) thing the band have ever put to record, they coast through a techno epic with a succession of largely cohesive shifts of tone that feel entirely theirs. It breaks new ground for them in a number of ways, but most notably Perry appears to have found a soapbox. She comes off in almost bemusingly grandiloquent form, a far cry from her soundbyte heyday. This new register is stretched thin at points, but the gist carries clearly enough: behind every hallmark of an unholy temple
and fight the unnatural cause of anti-humanity
, you can feel how she’s appropriated contemporary doomspeak for a more uplifting, if perhaps self-deprecating spiel. The song wraps itself up with three unambiguous thesis lines: We have survived a hundred apocalypses / [...] Doomsday hasn’t come yet / You cannot stop civilisation
. Between that and the ultra-obvious title mantra, the secret's up! It was a chill song all along - who knew. That's the crux of the band for you: who else juggles pretence and candour so liberally? “Well Rested” spans a broad enough voyage of beats and blips to merit this kind of wide view on Humanity: Past and Future, and it’s catchy as hell every step of the way. It is a Kero Kero Bonito song.
Some shrewd cookies may have deduced by now that three excellent songs does an excellent EP make but - shit the bed! - there is a catch. Moreso than Civilisation I
, Civilisation II
it feels incomplete as an overall experience. Similarly to Time ‘n’ Place
, this release’s ambition opens books that can’t be be closed within its confines, but whereas that record’s emotional center was pronounced enough to excuse this, I feel that the whole Civilisation
project has been a sequence of vignettes on a bigger picture that doesn’t quite stretch comfortably between them. With its themes of isolation and daydreamer’s stoicism in the face of universal experiences of trauma, the EP holds together lyrically, but this is more the sense of three loosely overlapping rings in the same Venn diagram than three consecutive songs destined and crafted to appear together on the same release.
Catch: caught. In spite of this, I am
excited to return to all of these tracks many, many times in the short-to-mid-to-whenever future, because they’re among the the best things Kero Kero Bonito has done and can be enjoyed at any time of day in any order whatsoever, including the one in which they happen to have been released. True to KKB form, Civilisation II
has an absolutely perfect runtime for a lateriser’s pre-commute breakfast, and that alone packs at least as much value as a coherent sequencing given that it is, after all, a sodding compilatory EP. Engage and chi