If the new Nintendo Switch came to life and found itself inclined to pursue a career in pop music, it probably would sound something like Kero Kero Bonito. The trio occupies a unique niche in today’s pop market, as if Lily Allen found herself making a J-pop record. Vocalist Sarah Midori Perry is as open as a Tumblr post, able to swing between tender and teasing with same ease as she jumps from English to Japanese. Behind Perry’s school-girl charm is the production duo Gus Lobban and Jamie Bulled, who instill Bonito Graduation with influences ranging from mid-aughts electro to K and J-pop.
Bonito Graduation shies from the conventional subject matters of romance or relationships, instead, focusing its childlike perspective upon day-to-day existential crises and picking them apart with the curiosity of youth. By centering their subject matter in the everyday, Kero Kero Bonito set themselves apart from much of pop, especially in this bubbly form no less. Not to say that love songs are lesser tunes, it just happens to be a refreshing shift in perspective from pop’s usual cupid-struck style. Even the one track most applicable to relationships at all, “Break”, proposes the idea of leaving the subject of romance for others to explore.
Leaving love in the rearview, Bonito Graduation is free to examine even more universal subjects including mid-twenties melancholy, growing up, and getting up. A major key shift of Lily Allen’s gloriously languid “Cheryl Tweedy”, “Waking Up” tackles the general struggle of starting the day with the chipper attitude of Ellie Kemper’s Kimmy Schmidt. As the record goes on, the subject matters deepen and the metaphors become richer: “But when you find the ocean/how will you know where to go” Perry queries on “Fishbowl”, an innocent yet pointed question to the “king of the castle.” Criminally terse in length, “Fishbowl” openly doubts the subject’s competency to acclimate while ironically doing so upon a bubbly synths and drums. Flowing swiftly in-and-out of your ears, it shows off that education Perry kinda brags about on the Holychild brat-pop of “Graduation”. Though this music may be cute, it belies a sly pop talent for hooks and observations alike.
If anything, Bonito Graduation is far wiser and snappier than it ever really lets on. “Can’t believe I have to rap on tracks so you get it” an exasperated Perry taunts on “Lipslap”, a loaded phrasing that recalls the playground teasing of Fannypack. Melodically, the throwback-vibe of “Big City” matches the brilliant retro-themed productions K-pop labels have been delivering recently. The epitome of this lyrical/production partnership comes on “Trampoline”, a blissful anti-gravity anthem that uses chilly synths and a tropical beat as a springboard for Perry to deliver her lesson on triumphing over sadness. Though each track is filled with enough sugar to clog arteries, they’re equally packed with mature and witty observations which balance out their sweetness.
Bonito Graduation is thickly coated in this sweet pop sheen, and repeated listens can induce the same effect as a sugar rush. While it can (and on occasion should) be enjoyed as a full smorgasbord, its individual songs digest like cupcakes, too many at a time can irritate even a sonic sweet-tooth. Like any assortment, some flavors simply aren’t satisfying, including the finale, “Hey Parents”—while endearing, the song trips over itself like the child it tries to be.
To fully enjoy Bonito Graduation, view it through its own inquisitive outlook, and to not be daunted by the fact some of it won’t be understandable to you. “I speak different languages and people get what I mean” Perry asserts on “Try Me”, and that’s as good a reason as any for you to give Bonito Graduation a listen. B