Kero Kero Bonito are not the type to follow more traditional record label release schedules. Despite launching their last LP to explosive success with Sony Japan, their newest endeavour Time ‘n’ Place formed on a Monday of all days. Although it leapt onto streaming services from thin air, some of the songs are re-releases from the TOTEP EP earlier this year; almost a premonition for the things we could come to expect from this new record – slushy and dreamy MIDI beats, walls of pop guitar and a mix of sounds and influences much more complex than the polished but homogenous Bonito Generation.
Stylistically, it’s a big turn for the group who have up to this point been refreshing but stuck tidily to a PC Music formula. Time ‘n’ Place has vocals more like Charly Bliss than Hannah Diamond. It has sections of ugly feedback in complete opposition to the digital age sanitation of the rest of the scene, which means even more when considering that Kane West, one third of the group, hosted his solo projects on the label before focussing on KKB. More artists like SOPHIE or Felicita are departing from PC Music’s trademark sounds to explore new avenues, but where those two found it in ambience or avant-garde, KKB have developed a totally different nostalgia to pop, now focused in on cutesy-garage rock, acoustic age digital artefacts, and an increasingly lo-fi approach (so much so that the first section of “Rest Stop” sounds more like a lost bedroom-pop bandcamp track).
This more lo-fi approach does not mean that the album is uncomplex or obvious. Many of the songs have multiple distinct sections. ‘Outside’ kicks off the album with garage rock but within a 2-minute run time also includes a jazzy chiming end section, ‘Time Today’ is a dreamy bedroom-synth ditty. ‘Only Acting’ mixes the two previous tracks: obtuse MIDI drums and bass in the first minute and probably the album’s catchiest refrain with a rock set-up the next. Not to mention the track has a glitched-out section with screamed vocals and a poppy, feedback-tinged guitar section right after, a quieter vocal-led part and a Daft-Punk-esque glitch and stretch section complete the song and all this fits in a tight radio length track under four minutes. This amount of genre-bending vibe-building variety is a massively welcome turn in the band’s sound – everything described above appears in just the first three songs.
A lot of KKB’s audience might find this an inconsistency with the record, a reason for their initial success was their tight sound and fun, simple productions of earlier singles ‘Flamingo’ or ‘Graduation’, but it’s also clear that the more scattered feel of the new album matches the higher thematic lyrical depth. The video for ‘Time Today’, as well as the lyrics of ‘Visiting Hours’ both discuss a hospital visit that is implicitly related to mental health, where ‘Flamingo’ presents a simple moral story. Here, Time ‘n’ Place holds up uncomfortable themes of illness, unfamiliarity and even death.
The final track, ‘Rest Stop’, seems almost like a mission statement of the album. It darts between cute melodies, bugged out dissonance and ends by interrupting the last lyric mid-word. It’s a soup of influences and makes us remember that Kero Kero Bonito is more than a one trick pony. They know exactly how to craft a good record and launch it at us to entirely remedy our Monday morning blues.