Kero Kero Bonito- Time ‘n’ Place
Stream and buy the record here.
Kero Kero Bonito is easily one of my favorite artists that I’ve discovered this year. I really enjoy their mixtape Intro Bonito, and I think that their LP, Bonito Generation, was one of the best pop records of 2016. Their happy-go-lucky sound, Sarah Midori Perry’s multilingual vocals, and the project’s rhythmic musicality make them instantly infectious. Songs like “Break” and “Hey Parents” are genius examples. However, nothing caught me more by surprise than their EP, TOTEP. I reviewed this project back in February, which you can read here. To summarize my thoughts, I absolutely adore all 11 minutes this EP offered. It’s been roughly seven months since it dropped, and I still find myself returning to the whole project. The group decided to take a much darker, more nostalgic turn on this EP, and it really works out in their benefit. The single issue I had with this project was that it could have used one more song. Little did I know then that TOTEP was just a teaser. In June, they dropped a brand new single titled “Time Today,” telling everyone that they had a brand new full length called Time ‘n’ Place coming out soon. Another single, “Make Believe,” was released earlier in September, and then, of course, the LP would come by surprise on October 1st.
Right off the bat on “Outside,” we see Kero Kero Bonito experimenting with noise rock. The group did this on their TOTEP EP, but to open the project with something quite different from their usual sound is bold. This noisy approach shows up again on “Only Acting,” the single from TOTEP and “Flyway,” which follows it directly. Other tracks make time for noisy elements as well, such as “Make Believe.” Most of the instrumental on this record conveys a mood of deep nostalgia. This started on TOTEP but it is definitely amped up. “Dump” and “Time Today” are the soundtrack to long, personal reflection. We have some newer ideas also, like the dramatic instrumental on “Dear Future Self,” which sounds and feels like rifling through a time capsule. Probably the most unique of these instrumentals comes on “Sometimes,” which is entirely acoustic, a kind of optimistic campfire sing-along that Kero Kero Bonito have never before attempted.
Sarah’s vocals somehow manage to work with every single one of these styles without changing too drastically. Back on Kero Kero Bonito’s earlier work, she would change styles quite often between very sugary singing and rapping. Both of these worked very well, but on TOTEP and now Time ‘n’ Place, she’s developed a longing, pensive tone. She stays in her range and knows how to keep up with the tempo and make every song pleasant on the ears. Whether it’s noise-rock or downbeat pop, she turns it into ear candy. I admit that I miss her switches between English and Japanese, but at the same time, it’s clear that Kero Kero Bonito are evolving.
Lyrically, much of the themes from TOTEP continue here. Kero Kero Bonito is no longer the happy go-lucky band they were on their mixtape and debut, but a band concerned with battling depression and ruminating on mortality. Sarah mentions, at one point, that she might not even notice if the sun went down permanently, a familiar metaphor for a troubled mental state; and later, she wishes she could take off like the birds on “Flyway.” There’s a little insight on this sudden tonal change on one of my favorite songs, “Make Believe,” when Sarah tells us that she’s always tried to pretend that things are great, just as on Bonito Generation, but real life has started creeping up on her. This theme picks up on “Dear Future Self,” where Sarah revisits something she wrote to herself a long time ago. It's as depressing as the record gets. We see her reflecting on her youthful aspirations, now with the awareness that not everything is going to be as good as it was then. The last remnants of the old Kero Kero Bonito surface on “If I’d Known,” which has just a twinkle of the fun, electropop-lite that made Bonito Generation so outstanding. It's a little darker, but it still serves to remind us of what the group once was.
Not everything is doom and gloom, though. “Outside” has a pretty optimistic view on life, assuring us that there’s always a rainbow after the rain. “Visiting Hours,” despite being about visiting someone in a hospital, just wants us to help others out. “Sometimes” is truly vital to the LP, telling us that life can suck, but to keep your head up because you aren’t alone, and that life has moments that everything worth it. “Swimming” is literally about how we need to learn to be independent to on order to survive.
“Only Acting” being included on Time ‘n’ Place is one of my very few problems with this LP. I've loved this song to death ever since TOTEP, and I do believe this song was always meant to make an appearance on this LP and not shoehorned in at the last moment to capitalize on unexpected success (see Lil Uzi Vert and Travis Scott). However, keeping a song that is eight months older than the LP is weird, especially when it was on its own project before. I feel like Kero Kero Bonito could have easily replaced it with something in a similar vein, and the record would have been that much stronger. Keeping “Only Acting” adds to its other problem of length. Once again, Kero Kero Bonito suffer from not including enough material. While this record is significantly longer than TOTEP, its 33-minute runtime just cannot do everything it wants to do justice. That said, I cannot deny that “Only Acting” fits where it is on the tracklist, transitioning into “Flyway” perfectly.
This record closes off with “Rest Stop,” which does an incredible job summarizing everything Kero Kero Bonito have tried to prove with Time ‘n’ Place. The song starts off at a rest stop, symbolizing the little break everyone needs in their life, before going into a bit of a noise craze, ending with Sarah giving advice on how to deal with life’s struggles before cutting her off midway through a sentence. It concludes the LP with a sense of walking into the unknown and being prepared for what life may dish out. I thought Andrew W.K. conveyed the idea of walking into the unknown perfectly, but it looks like someone had already one-upped him. Kero Kero Bonito’s version feels a lot more realistic, and that the thought is cut off adds all the more flavor.
Perhaps jumping on a trampoline won’t solve all our problems as previously thought. Life is a very rough road that sometimes feels like it is going absolutely nowhere. We’ll stop and get nostalgic, which make things harder. Time ‘n’ Place isn’t here to tell us that it never gets better, though. Quite the contrary. There’s a whole life waiting for us outside, and though it seems scary, there’s so much opportunity waiting for us ahead. It’s time we stop being afraid of this unknown and living in the past, and start striving for the future. Time ‘n’ Place is here to remind us that everything will be okay.
VERDICT: Time ‘n’ Place pushes the sonic drive of TOTEP while beautifully describing life’s ups and downs. Kero Kero Bonito have matured greatly over the last two years, and are proving that they are truly here to stay.
- Alex Brown