One of the more surprising (and glorious) musical reinventions of 2018 arrived in the form of Kero Kero Bonito’s sophomore album, Time ’n’ Place. The British indie-pop band’s earlier releases—2014’s Intro Bonito and 2016’s Bonito Generation—were characterized by chiptune instrumentation, manic song structures, and unabashedly tasteless production choices. Beginning with 2018’s TOTEP EP, Kero Kero Bonito ditched the programmed drums and Super Mario 64 samples in favor of more “traditional” instrumentation—guitars, vocals, bass, and drums. (Though many of the band’s newer songs remain ornamented with their signature glitchy synths.)
To say the group’s latest LP delivered on the promise of TOTEP would be an understatement; Time ’n’ Place is damn close to being a perfect pop record. It’s fun without feeling lightweight, indelible without ever becoming cloying, and meaningful without seeming pretentious. Time ’n’ Place is also noticeably darker and more organic than the band’s previous work (which nonetheless feels like a very silly thing to say about Kero Kero Bonito). Singer Sarah Midori Perry’s songs reference trees, rivers, and sunshine, and these themes poetically mirror the band’s newfound penchant for more rock-oriented arrangements.
Midori Perry’s lyrics also hint at a nostalgic aching for childhood—particularly one unencumbered by modern technology or the ineluctable crumminess of adult life (making Time ’n’ Place something of a Skylarking or The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society for scores of millennials reared on PlayStation 2 Japanese role-playing games and Sprite Remix). “I set a watch for five o’clock/I think of rivers and trees as I’m drifting off,” she sings on the album’s catchiest single, “Make Believe,” which sounds like a long-lost Xanadu outtake transmitted to Earth from another dimension. “All my life I tried to find the time to make believe/But now as certain as the seasons I know real life will get in between.” It’s a pithy sentiment, but one that feels especially poignant in the nightmarish present. Sometimes beautiful pop music is all you’ve got.