Kero Kero Bonito levels up: tales of war and humanity's own crippling foolishness explored on 'Civilisation I'

Categories:  Music    The Arts
Friday, October 11th, 2019 at 11:37 AM
Kero Kero Bonito levels up: tales of war and humanity's own crippling foolishness explored on 'Civilisation I' by Livia Homerski

Kero Kero Bonito (KKB) is growing up, and the concern woven throughout their latest EP, “Civilisation I,” is something of an angsty, existential revolution for the British experimental-pop band. The trio, formed by Sarah Bonito, Gus Lobban and Jamie Bulled in 2013, found success through cheeky tracks like “Trampoline,” “Sick Beat” and the infectious anthem of acceptance “Flamingo.”

This release is more serious and mature than previous ones, as KKB seem to be delving into advanced storytelling techniques and thinking about the fate of people in all tenses: past, present and future. The lightheartedness of previous material has been shed and “Civilisation I” emerges with a message of deeper urgency — reform our violent, selfish ways before all is lost.

These themes are lodged in between mystical, video-game inspired synths and eclectic song structures that build KKB’s sonic world, which is what’s stayed mostly the same. And while they’ve dropped the personable bilingual embellishments throughout the verses, it was a gamble for accessibility versus placement. Again, the tone is much more serious, and perhaps the lingual double-Dutch between English and Japanese did not have a place here.

In addition, their production throughout recent releases has morphed into something a bit more layered and fuzzy compared to the squeaky clean J-pop and dance-inspired sound that brought them initial popularity. While KKB were a bit heavy on the shoegaze during 2018’s “Time ‘n’ Place,” they seem to have taken their feet off the distortion-pedal ever so slightly for these new songs.

The beginning of “Battles Lines,” the first track of the EP, begins like the dawn on the day of a battle, with the verses and choruses marching toward the big attack — a vicious, buzzy synth solo that rips through the song. “Battle Lines” is certainly eclectic, and the punchy war-drum percussion and the firing of pinball-like synths could not be more appropriate for such a chaotically subtle song.

Bonito keeps the darkness of fascism and war contained with her light vocals, proclaiming: “For in a world that never takes a form, the battle lines are gone. And war is always on, somehow, but we are all the soldiers now.”

This juxtaposition is what pervades throughout “Civilisation I,” and makes the listener forget that they’re dancing to an EP about imminent destruction.

For a song about humanity being eradicated in the furious flames of climate change, “When the Fire Comes Out” is a fairly relaxed song with a tender chord progression in the pop-ballad chorus. According to the band, the inspiration behind the track occurred when the band was touring in California as the horrible wildfires that occurred in 2018 raged.

Between the fluffy synths and floaty pan flute sound that makes frequent appearances in Bonito’s discography, such as on “Flamingo,” listeners are lulled into a dreamy sway, making it all the easier to forget the approaching devastation.

“The River” wraps up the album with a suspenseful and flowing energy. Whereas “When the Fire Comes Out” was a song of a world ending in fire, “The River” drowns the world with a flood.

“We pass down our wisdom. After sunshine comes thunder. The longer the drought, the heavier the clouds” sings Bonito before another gnarly and tempestuous synth solo rings out over the fuzzy and bubbling tide of the accompanying rhythm.

It is interesting that Kero Kero Bonito released work centered around climate doom considering the recent battle cries of activist Greta Thunberg and how everyday, we further stray from the Earth’s grace by continuing to pump chemicals into our atmosphere and dump ocean-life killing plastics into our seas. Taking into consideration that Grimes is also working on an album centered around the destruction of climate change, perhaps we can take this influx of climate-conscious music a sign of the distress that’s permeating our collective consciousness.

Luckily, music can be a thoughtful and empathetic platform that allows people to relate and understand in new ways, so kudos to Kero Kero Bonito for leading a conversation that we desperately need to continue having until the war on our planet is over.

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