Photo courtesy of Polyvinyl Records

Kero Kero Bonito’s ‘Time ‘n’ Place’ Shows a Band Looking to the Future

Time 'n' Place sounds transitional as if Kero Kero Bonito are working their way into something that's more sustainable than the often wild, sometimes too-cute experiments of their past.

Time 'n' Place
Kero Kero Bonito
1 October 2018

There’s an innocence and a straightforwardness to the music of Kero Kero Bonito that makes it extremely appealing as a palette-cleanser in between mopey rock songs or effects-laden dance music. The songs are largely short and punchy, they avoid metaphor in favor of plain-spoken emotions and descriptions, and even when the topics are heavy, they are delivered with an infectious, starry-eyed hope. Finding a band that can so effortlessly offer a secure, confident blast of cheer is rare, and Kero Kero Bonito looked set to make a career of it.

For better and worse, Time ‘n’ Place is a left turn. Not only does it significantly expand the number of tools at the band’s disposal, but it also expands the range of emotion that Perry herself offers the listener. At no point did I expect rock ‘n’ roll guitars; at no point did I expect melancholy. It takes some getting used to.

For instance, “Outside”, the album opener, is mostly a blast of fast-paced punk guitar, chugging along merrily underneath Perry’s tuneful, airy vocals. Sure, it ends with a clunk, petering out with a quick detour into wispy synth work before unceremoniously ending, but that doesn’t change just how much of a wake-up call those guitars are as the first thing we hear when the album starts. “Dear Future Self” makes good use of synthesized backing vocals and varied instrumentation, tumbling its way into something like a selection from a stage musical. “If I’d Known” flirts with indie power pop, riding odd little chord progressions into something like a song that Matt Mahaffey (Self) might have written, complete with an outro featuring some rare vocals from Kero Kero Bonito instrumentalist Jamie Bulled. “Sometimes” is a folk singalong, acoustic guitars and all. Every single one of these songs is a highlight, at least as much for the way they subvert expectations as for the quality of the songs themselves.

Another highlight is “Only Acting”, on which Perry’s voice is right out front, offering lyrics that blur the line between acting as an artistic pursuit and acting as a function of just getting through day-to-day life, and the music behind her bounces and bubbles in a way that can’t help but remind of “Sick Beat”, the standout track from Kero Kero Bonito’s Intro Bonito debut mixtape. It also brings those big rock ‘n’ roll guitars back for the chorus and even throws in what could be a vintage Weezer guitar solo for good measure.

Let’s go back to those vocals, though — the fact that Perry’s vocals in “Only Acting” are at the front of the mix and largely unadorned, once a feature of Kero Kero Bonito’s sound, is an anomaly on Time ‘n’ Place. Most of the vocal work on the rest of the album is done in a breathy, slightly processed, more traditionally synthpop-vocalist sound. That seems like it would be a minor point, but it’s a sound that allows Perry to fade further back into the instrumental mix, an approach that the band has, to date, made a point to avoid. It’s a lost quirk that points perhaps to increased maturity in songwriting and performance, but at the cost of some of the band’s individuality. These songs are less like conversations and more like performances, and as a result, despite the wildly varying instrumentation, they start to blur together.

Still, Time ‘n’ Place is not a long album, and it doesn’t have time to get tiresome. It feels like something transitional as if Kero Kero Bonito are working their way into something that is more sustainable than the often wild, sometimes too-cute experiments of their past. Time ‘n’ Place’s rock ‘n’ roll guitars and its full, pristine production give listeners plenty to grab onto, even if the band seems to have lost a little of its personality in the process. It is a fine album on its own merits, and a very good one as the next step in Kero Kero Bonito’s evolution; the hope, of course, is that the band’s continued evolution doesn’t cause them to lose the personality that made them so appealing in the first place.

RATING 6 / 10