Kero Kero Bonito and the Wisdom of Make Believe

Kero Kero Bonito bring their sick beats to the Nile.
Kero Kero Bonito bring their sick beats to the Nile.
Tracey Ng
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It’s hard to believe that only five years ago, Kero Kero Bonito had yet to bless the world with their vibrant pop wonderland. In summer 2014, the Intro Bonito mixtape shook the blogosphere as Sarah Midori Perry rapped about wanting to be Tomb Raider and not needing to submit to any notion of identity beyond her own. Slaying one existential demon after another over top N64-style breakbeats from the production team of Gus Lobban (PC Music’s Kane West) and Jamie Bulled, Perry laid the groundwork for a future pop utopia where over-the-top color palettes and biting social commentary can throw a collaborative dance party.

Fast-forward a few years, and KKB make their proper LP debut with Bonito Generation, wherein Perry dons a graduation robe and ruminates about the challenges of the post-academia real world. Songs like “Graduation” and “Try Me” touch on the inherent hypocrisy of the educational system and capitalism, while singles like “Break” and “Trampoline” highlight the importance of self-care and optimism. It’s a careful balance that, thanks to Gus and Jamie’s untouchable ’90s dance production, never feels heavy-handed. KKB are here for the party, but down for a great conversation if there’s one to be had.

After years of touring, Kero Kero Bonito returned abruptly with “Only Acting,” a song and video that introduced a surprising new chapter for the band. Gone are the break-dance rhythms and cutesy animal noise samples. In their place are live drums and blaring, distorted guitars. In the video, the ’90s sitcom color schemes have been ditched in favor of a fuzzy, minimalist stage where Gus and Jamie rock out on bass and drums as Sarah faces a crowd of empty chairs.

“It takes much more than just learning the script,” Perry sings. “You gotta take the part and believe it / Oh, I sometimes make up all of my lines on the spot / But I will always give what I got.”

The song decomposes into a harsh noise meta meltdown, extending the “Is it real?” metaphor all the further. “Only Acting” sets a great thesis statement for their second LP, Time ’n’ Place. Where Bonito Generation focused on new challenges and a wide-eyed look forward, Time ’n’ Place looks in the rear view at a suburban backdrop, where memories and childhood lessons take on more weighted meaning and truth in light of adult realities.

Kero Kero Bonito have signed to Polyvinyl for the release of their new record, home to such indie stalwarts as American Football, Pedro the Lion, and Alvvays. In turn, Time ’n’ Place feels matured in a way that fits naturally alongside its counterparts. Where the trio have ditched their tongue-in-cheek collection of sounds, they’ve retained a mastery of the pop form. Singles like “Swimming” and “Make Believe” show off effortless hooks for long sunset drives. The visual components from director James Hankins marry the hand-painted KKB world of wonder with the grit and grime of the world around them. All in all, Sarah and co. feel comfortable and confident in their new landscape. Though the horizon has darkened naturally with age, they remember that much of the world is just how we choose to see it.

Fans of KKB’s signature whimsy need not fear it going away. Late last year, Polyvinyl re-released their entire catalog on vinyl. This includes a 7” of “Flamingo,” which means wax DJs can play this inclusivity jam at the club. “It’s boring being the same,” Perry sings. “Flamingo, you’re pretty either way.” From these early days of anonymity to this year’s Coachella stage, Kero Kero Bonito let metamorphosis be their guide.

Kero Kero Bonito. With Jaako Eino Kalevi. 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 10, at The Nile Theater, 105 West Main Street; niletheater.com. Tickets are $15 to $17 via Ticketfly.

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