Published Oct 04, 2018London's Kero Kero Bonito startled their fans somewhat with the release of their Totep EP earlier this year, all but abandoning their sunny, pop-oriented sound for a decidedly grungier, guitar-heavy style, full of crunching distortion and glitched out noise.
Time 'n' Place, their surprise-release followup, has now arrived, and within its first seconds, it becomes clear they're leaning into this new direction wholeheartedly. Whether it's for better or worse will largely depend on how willing you are to follow them, but those who do will be treated to an excellent album that serves as a reminder that a stylistic leap of faith can sometimes pay off.
To be clear, there is nothing on Time 'n' Place that even remotely approaches the mainline sugar-rush of tracks like "Trampoline" or "Picture This," and frankly it's hard not to miss that style, as it was already so fresh and original: a bubbling blend of hip-hop, videogame music, and J-pop tied together with charming lyrics and goofy raps from Japanese-born singer Sarah Bonito (often jumping between English and Japanese).
Sadly, there's no rapping or bilingualism this time around, and while Bonito's disarmingly optimistic tone remains, it's heavily guarded — the lyrics of "Time Today," which balance a determination to get things done with the knowledge that there's a good chance you'll actually achieve very little, encapsulates the vibe of the album well. The songwriting and instrumentation are similarly tempered, leaving some of the best moments to be uncovered on repeated listens as opposed to winning you over immediately.
But won over you'll be, as long as you keep an open mind, as this is still a KKB album, full of great melodies, kitschy one-off synth flourishes, and amusing lyrical tangents ("Dump," an ode to a landfill site, is a low-key highlight) — they just require a little more listener involvement.
This is also probably the most cohesive KKB album yet, with a real ebb and flow, as opposed to 2016's Bonito Generation, which, excellent as it was, sounded more like a collection of singles or SoundCloud posts. Time 'n' Place is challenging, but its rewards are commensurate, and while the band may lose some of their more fickle fans with this release, it's always refreshing to see artistic growth put first, especially when it pays off like this. (Polyvinyl)