Today has been the day that KONGOS fans worldwide have been waiting for since the band rose to international fame and platinum success with the release of the 2012 album Lunatic. Today, KONGOS released their third album and second major-label release, Egomaniac. While the strong debut single, "Take It From Me," came out in April and indicated that this release would be just as powerful as the last, I think most fans of the band wondered, in the back of their mind, if anything could possibly top Lunatic. That kind of success is notoriously difficult to match the second time around.
I've been fortunate enough to live with the album for the last couple weeks and despite desperately trying to find fault and flaw throughout Egomaniac, I think it's actually a better album than Lunatic, and it certainly covers a lot more ground and a lot more depth. The brothers Kongos — Jesse, Johnny, Dylan, and Danny — have been able to pull off a triumphant return.
For much of the world, KONGOS seemed to appear out of nowhere two years ago with their alternative-chart-topper "Come With Me Now." Keep in mind that their fans in their homeland of South Africa and their adopted home of Arizona had Lunatic in their hands in 2012, two years before Epic signed the group and re-released the album with an altered track order. KONGOS' home audiences also had the luxury of enjoying their debut album while they released single after single for more than two years leading up to the 2012 release. Those of us in Phoenix and South Africa got to watch, one song at a time, how Lunatic was put together and finally delivered. We got to see KONGOS grow up in front of our ears and eyes. So for those fans, this album has been four years in waiting.
Egomaniac feels like an organic KONGOS album — every bit as exciting as Lunatic, if not more so, because this time we only got to hear one or two songs in advance. Egomaniac also shows KONGOS as a more mature band, a band that has toured the world with the likes of AWOLNATION, Imagine Dragons, Kings of Leon, Airborne Toxic Event, and Dispatch. Though the album may be titled Egomaniac, it's pretty clear that success and fame actually haven't gotten to their heads at all. For one thing, KONGOS are succinct on this album, with a careful mind toward ensuring that each tune does not extend its reach. Not a song here strays beyond its welcome and it never devolves into masturbatory aggrandizement or indulgences, and for that alone they should be applauded.
It should be no surprise that the album is single-heavy, you would expect nothing else. The first single, the Jesse Kongos-led "Take It From Me," is an infectious gem. Egomaniac is subsequently littered with singles throughout after that album opener. "I Don't Mind" should be the next single without a doubt. It's a showcase for Dylan Kongos and his rapid-fire lyrical delivery. "Autocorrect," after some careful radio-friendly editing, would make a fantastic single. Meanwhile, "Underground" is a brilliant rocker with heavier guitars than normal.
Those are just the obvious singles. If Epic were to choose a less overt path to push this record to the world, they may want to go with Dylan Kongos' "Hey You, Yeah You," which is probably the most catchy of the slower songs found on the album. It's got an unreasonably fantastic hook, and if they are looking for a slower-paced single this should be their pick. It has a vibe reminiscent of "Take Me Back," from Lunatic. Yet that's the thing: There is a phenomenal strength to their more easy going songs. The slower songs are where their grace and elegance shows not only as songwriters and a band of substantial power, but also as human beings. Songs like Danny's "Where I Belong" reminds me of "Escape" — a single from Lunatic. "2 In The Morning" is a fair summation of dealing with the one that got away after the bar closes and you're alone in the street. It's another reflective number from Danny, filled with brilliant wisdom that goes easy on the soul.
The band's signature accordion sound comes through heavily on Johnny's politically charged "I Want It Free." The song seems like head-bopping fun, but with an underlying political message about the 1 percent. It's subtle but rallying nonetheless. "Birds Do It" is an awesome commentary on sexual politics and definitely Johnny's showcase, with a bawdy sense of fun and humor to boot. "Repeat After Me" is another horizon-expanding song for the brothers and yet a return to roots with the stunning African rhythms and percussion, a lyrically obsessive fascination with math, and an apocalyptic feel. Danny's "The World Would Run Better" has a cool vibe, with conversational lyricism until the chorus. It's amusing and yet reflective, then it kicks into gear and becomes a Eurodisco dream come true.
On one hand Egomaniac, is kind of a party monster of an album and for audiences abroad. This might be popular with the "getting fucked up" crowd; certainly "Autocorrect" will garner that kind of attention. At the same time, this album also seems to be more reflective and introspective as well, which is to be expected from a band that is maturing. They have far more experience and wisdom under their belt than they did in 2012.
Finally, in the grand scheme of the album, it also seems to be about a band battling to mind their identity, without losing it. In all of these respects, this album far exceeds its predecessor in strength and vitality, with the accordion rocking hard, while mixing more modern sounds in striking juxtaposition to the African drums and rhythms. The KONGOS sound has broadened this time around. Now it will be up to Epic to push this album as hard as they pushed the last one, because it feels like one marketing campaign away from matching the success of its predecessor. Their heads may not be as big as they are in the video for "Take It From Me," but KONGOS' sound is bigger and better than ever before.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.