When it comes to music with charm and peppy charisma, Kero Kero Bonito has it all. Their overly-cutesy, sugary approach to j-pop and synthpop music has turned heads within the past few years, especially since they took their style and ran with it fearlessly and unapologetically in their 2016 project Bonito Generation. Its energetic, quirky production style and blunt, simplistic lyrics made it one of the most unique albums of the year. Without a doubt, they have a certain magic that’s difficult to compare to any of their contemporaries.
Even so, having crafted their own one-of-a-kind style doesn’t necessarily yield perfection. Since the release of this project, my personal bias has been begging to show its head and affect my listening experience. I’m typically drawn to music with more bite or intensity to it, and there had always been a wall of personal disconnect between Bonito Generation and me. Thankfully, the release of TOTEP provided nearly exactly what I needed to burn it down.
I was drawn in immediately by Only Acting; an epic single that caught me off guard by its heavy distortion and glitchiness. The lyrics are a creative take on a casual relationship where the person involved fell deeper into their feelings than they meant to (“I thought I was only acting”). Its buildup into a satisfying crescendo made it stand out as one of my favorite songs of the year. I was curious to see where they could go with this new sound, and loved how these harder elements balanced out the sweetness of Sarah’s charming, adorable vocal.
At only 11 minutes, TOTEP delivers as many highlights as you’d hope for. The One True Path starts the project off with a subtle yet raw instrumental; its smooth synths, grimy bass, distortion, and organ work together pretty harmoniously. Lyrically, its abstract, vague subject matter makes for a more mysterious/dark listen than any of their past material. Moving further, unfortunately You Know How It Is left something to be desired. Its lyrics could have been pushed much further and feel thrown together, the climax is hardly satisfying, and the instrumentation is messy. Still, its gritty, shoegazey inspired production brought something to the table that the group could build on down the line.
Cinema incorporates mainly synthetic sounds, but it’s toned down from the energy of Bonito Generation. The production is stripped-back, with duller/calmer synths and soft percussion. The track expresses frustration with how Sarah relates to people. It brings the concept of a “show” full-circle from Only Acting, but this time people are watching her in a cinema-esque situation. It’s sleepy and mellow, but a lovely way to close out the EP.