Written by Oscar Kim Bauman
Edited by Susan Kuroda
Even as their music has evolved, the loosely-defined indie band Kero Kero Bonito has always released songs with a distinctly personal touch. The London-based trio began releasing music in 2014 with the mixtape “Intro Bonito.” The group consists of vocalist Sarah Midori Perry, also known by the stage name Sarah Bonito, alongside producers Gus Lobban and Jamie Bulled. Kero Kero Bonito’s early music drew influence from electropop and Japanese hip hop, with the Japanese-born Perry often giving a bilingual vocal performance. More recent work, such as 2018’s “Time n’ Place,” leaned towards shoegaze and post-punk. Most recently, the duo of “Civilisation” EPs, the first released in September of 2019 and the second released in April of 2021, take on the horrors of pandemic isolation and climate change through a fantasy-tinged lens.
“Civilisation II” consists of only three songs, which KKB have said are representative of the past, present, and future. The album’s opening track, “The Princess and the Clock,” calls back to the chiptune cheer of 2016’s “Bonito Generation” album, while mixing in the wistful melancholy of “Time n’ Place.” This effect is enhanced by Perry’s light vocals and the track’s fairytale-evoking lyrics, an allegory for feelings of isolation and stagnation. Although it was written before the pandemic, the mood it captures nevertheless feels poignant. The instrumental for “The Princess and the Clock” is a richly textured synth fantasy landscape, with a propulsive beat, glittering keyboard tones, and a couple of rave-worthy breakdowns, one made up of vocal modulations at the song’s opening, and another vintage synth solo at its bridge.
Track two, “21/04/20,” takes on a more mellow, hazy mood. As its beat skips along, the wash of analog synthesizer textures is so cozy it’s easy to ignore the palpable anxiety of the lyrics, painting a picture of lockdown in all its mundane dread. As Perry sings “As I head up the road/A private ambulance zooms off into the distance/In silence/All the shops are closed,” the listener is transported back to early days of the pandemic, possibly the date in mid-April 2020 that the song’s title references. Structurally, “21/04/20” is unusual, as it features no chorus or other repeated section, instead simply consisting of multiple verses, or arguably a single long verse, as if to emphasize the stretching of the current moment and the blending of days in isolation.
The EP’s closer is the seven-minute epic “Well Rested,” the longest track in KKB’s discography. The track uses mythic language to convey the looming doom of climate collapse, as Perry opens the track with the ominous declaration “For all of existence/Humanity has been guided by only one principle/To keep living.” After this introduction, Perry returns to Japanese lyrics, absent from “Time n’ Place,” but while her early usage of the language was in chirpy, singsong raps, the Japanese verse in “Well Rested” has a more eerie, chanted quality, as Perry’s echoing voice invokes the presence of “Mother Gaia.”
Towards the end of the third minute, the track’s misty house beat gives way to a squeaky synth, as Perry’s voice returns issuing what sounds less like a song and more like a manifesto: “False prophets proclaim that the end is nigh/And that humanity is not worth existence/This is a trap laid to ensnare the living/A lie for the weak-willed, the inhuman!” While Perry continues, the track builds, as the phrase “and we will be well rested/ when the ascension comes” repeats, before the vocal track gives way, descending into a dancefloor breakdown. As the song continues, Perry’s words become garbled and distorted, straining comprehensibility, as the instrumental continues into new, more dynamic territory, with glitched-out synth beats. In the song’s final moments, rushing water overtakes the instrumental, perhaps the sound of the rising sea, as Perry intones “you cannot stop civilization.” The song, and indeed the EP, comes to a close with synths winding down, replaced by the sounds of water and chirping birds: technology overcome by nature.
It’s unclear whether the “Civilisation II” EP represents a conclusion to the project, or merely a second chapter in an ongoing series. But whatever they do next, it’s sure to be something to keep an eye out for. Kero Kero Bonito’s musical horizons seem broader than ever, as they mix a diverse array of sonic textures from the various phases of their career. With this sonic growth has also come an expanded frame of mind, as the group that once sang about mundane daily life now spins visions of a real-world apocalypse.