Kero Kero Bonito is a London-based Electronic Pop-Music trio consisting of vocalist Sarah Midori Perry and producers Gus Lobban and Jamie Bulled. Active since 2011, the band has an idiosyncratic, yet bright and colorful approach to pop music, taking influence from Japanese Pop Music and Game Music, with quirky, MIDI-sounding instrumentals and bilingual lyrics. Their songs tend to be irresistibly sweet, with a playful sense of humor, yet creative and sincerely positive the whole way through.
After releasing a plethora of singles following their creation, including hits such as "Flamingo" and "Sick Beat", they released their debut mixtape, Intro Bonito in 2014. Their debut commercial album, Bonito Generation, serving as its follow-up, was released in late 2016. In early 2018, they released their TOTEP EP, which introduced a new, darker and more Alternative Rock and Noise Pop-inspired sound, serving as a teaser to their second album, Time 'n' Place, which released on October later in the year.
In addition to the band, Gus Lobban also has a solo project called Augustus and a heavy-on-Stylistic Suck PC Music-affiliated project called "kane west" (not to be confused with that other guy). Jamie Bulled was part of a band called Kabogaeries before KKB, and releases solo work under the name WHARFWHIT. Sarah Midori Perry has lent her voice to other fellow producers, being a featured artist as "Sarah Bonito" for acts including マクロスMACROSS 82-99, Spazzkid, Sophie, and moon mask, and has also contributed a handful of songs for We Bare Bears.
For those curious, their band name is deliberately meant to be vague. "Kero" is a Japanese onomatopoeia for frog croaks (equivalent to "ribbit"), but a "bonito" is a type of fish, and the title as a whole can mean "I want, I want beautiful" in Portuguese. To paraphrase Gus, it's meant to be a name you can't tell the origin of.
- Bonito Generation (2016)
- Time 'n' Place (2018)
- Intro Bonito (2014)
- Bonito Recycling (2014)
- Bonito (Retakes) (2017)
- TOTEP (2018)
- Civilisation I (2019)
- Civilisation II (2021)
- Age-Progression Song: "Swimming" is about visiting the same beach as a child and then as an adult, reflecting on all the things that have changed since then.
- Animal Jingoism: "Cat Vs. Dog" is a two-verse song built around this, each verse representing one's perspective of the other. The lyrics are surprisingly intense.
- Animated Music Video: "The Princess and the Clock" and "21/04/20" had videos directed by Dan W. Jacobs, animated in a stylized, watercolor-like aesthetic detailing the plots of the songs' lyrics.
- A Wild Rapper Appears!: Jamie makes a sudden appearance in "If I'd Known" rapping the final verse.
- Bilingual Bonus: A large chunk of Intro Bonito and Bonito Generation mixes up English and Japanese lyrics, done mostly for aesthetic purposes, but often times also disguising a lot of additional meaning and depth to the topics set up in English. They've also occasionally used it to hide a joke, such as the break of "Homework" featuring in spoken word:「サラさん、あなたは脱税で告発されています」Translation .
- "Break" features the line "So we can all go take a break," which is directly echoed in Bonito Generation's bonus track, "Forever Summer Holiday", complete with its accompanying two-note riff.
- On TOTEP, the noise-filled ending of "Only Acting" is finally silenced by the distinct drum hit that kicks off "You Know How It Is". On Time 'n' Place, "Flyway" follows "Only Acting" instead, but it opens with a looping sample of the exact same drum sound.
- Camera Fiend: "Picture This" is from the perspective of one to capture all her good memories, challenging the listener to "Exercise your right to picture this."
- Coming-of-Age Story: A meta-example, some have noted that the transition from bright, innocent J-pop on Bonito Generation to a darker alt-rock sound with sadder lyrical themes on Time 'n' Place could be meant to represent a child maturing into an adult.
- Cover Version: "Fish Bowl (Frankie Cosmos Remix)", despite the label, is actually a direct, mostly acoustic cover of the song by Frankie Cosmos.
- Darker and Edgier:
- TOTEP and Time 'n' Place to most of KKB's previous discography. While not without their upbeat moments, previously prominent elements like the colorful lyrics and pop instrumentals are considerably toned down, with an increased focus on grittier, raw production and live guitars, developing more into a Pop Punk or Noise Pop vibe. The lyrics and subject matters, while still generally tackled in their typically simple yet optimistic way, are more existential and somewhat anxious. "Only Acting", especially, covers a mental breakdown and veers into Surreal Horror.
- Downplayed with Civilisation I, which phases out the noisier musical elements and hearkens back to their more colorful MIDI pop aesthetic, but their lyrics — while not quite as personally introspective — delve into serious discussion about the state of modern society and the environment. "When the Fires Come" explicitly talks about global warming, humanity's evils, and their impeding doom.
- Day in the Life: "21/04/20" recounts a Slice of Life of the titular date. Despite it firmly taking place during the COVID-19 Pandemic and recounting issues like lockdowns, social isolation, and uncertainty of the future, the day itself is surprisingly uneventful, mundane, and even tranquil.
- Department of Redundancy Department: A minor example in "Flyway", presumably done to fit the meter of the song."Where on earth in the world do they go?"
- Ear Worm: "Heard a Song" is all about hearing a song, not knowing what it's called, but still getting it stuck in your head.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Sarah didn't show up until 2014, and the singles before then had Gus doing the vocals.
- Epic Rocking: "Well Rested" — the final track of Civilisation II — is the band's longest track, just over 7 minutes long.
- Face on the Cover: Sarah shows up on most of their album and single covers. Played with on Time 'n' Place, where the picture of her is actually an old passport photo that was buried in a time capsule with the other objects on the album cover.
- Funny Background Event: The video to "Break" features Sarah posing completely still in public areas. As to be expected, some shots contain passersby looking confused and/or at the camera, and at one point a bunch of kids join in to sit alongside her.
- Gaia's Lament:
- "When the Fires Come" is a snapshot of the world as it declines from climate change, with humanity trying to hold on before it's all ravaged by apocalyptic wildfire.
- "Well Rested" is something of a self-response to this concept, detailing humanity's potential ascension if they manage to care for the world they'll leave behind.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
Their temples are in disarray, and they surely cannot know what only Gaia knows
The resurrection will come, only when Gaia requires it
It will not come soon, if we care for our mother
Instead, we will be well rested
- Gamer Chick: "Sick Beat" can effectively serve as the anthem to this trope, though the narrative is more specifically about growing up to be whatever you want, regardless of what others say.Whichever console you play, no matter how many hours a day
I could win at any game
Whether you're a boy, or a girl, or a supercomputer
It's often said I should get some girly hobbies instead
But that thought fills me with dread
I'm not into sewing, baking, dress-making, not eating, bitching, submitting
- Gilded Cage: "The Princess and the Clock" follows a girl who, while travelling from a distant land, is greeted by an island civilization who welcomes her as a princess descended from the heavens, keeping her safe in a tower. Despite this pampering, the girl realizes that time has stood still and she becomes no older even after years of containment. While the song's lyrics make the matter ambiguous, the band has stated that the civilization outright kidnapped her, making her desire to escape much more pertinent.
- Gratuitous Japanese:
- In addition to their band name (at least in one interpretation), Sarah regularly alternates between English and Japanese lyrics, with most songs featuring some degree of both. Gus and Jamie were specifically looking for someone who spoke Japanese as they formed the band, and Sarah herself is half-Japanese and speaks authentically. She also tends to sing and rap bilingually when as a featured artist for other peoples' music.
- "Paintbrush" is almost entirely in Japanese with only the title word in English, effectively inverting the trope.
- Noticeably absent from TOTEP and Time 'n' Place.
- Civilisation I and II are still largely in English, but "The River" from I features some easily-missed Japanese backing vocals, and the beginning of "Well Rested" from II has a full Japanese passage.
- Grief Song: "Flyway" is part Wanderlust Song and part this, as it was written after Sarah's pet bird died.
- Growing Up Sucks:
- Quite a few tracks from Intro Bonito, such as "Sick Beat", "Babies (Are so Strange)", "Let's Go To The Forest", and "I'd Rather Sleep" address this theme to some extent, discussing nervousness with growing up into adulthood and a potentially harsh reality.
- TOTEP and Time 'n' Place revisit this theme, with the latter especially delving deep into themes of comforting nostalgia and its connection to an increasingly close and uncertain future.
- "Swimming" is musically styled after Japanese singer-songwriter Yumi Matsutoya.
- In an accidental example, "Trampoline" musically refers to "Cruel Angel's Thesis". Gus stated it's likely he unconsciously thought of the melody, as he grew up on those kinds of anime.
- Humans Are Flawed: Implicitly the overarching theme of the Civilisation EP series, detailing humanity as inflicting cycle upon cycle of conflict and apocalypse on themselves, but may be capable of being so much more, and will survive no matter what.
- Initialism Title: TOTEP is greatly implied to be this, though what it actually stands for is unknown. The spines of early CD prints read its title as The One True EP, but the band confirmed that this was actually a printing error and have yet to reveal what it actually means.
- Interrupted by the End: The final verse of "Rest Stop" and the album Time 'n' Place, devoid of instrumental, goes as suchnote :So when we walk among the clouds
Hold your neighbour close
As the trumpets echo round
You don't wanna be
- Last Note Nightmare:
- The video ending to "Only Acting", exacerbated by abrupt skipping in the second chorus, which even played in its debut live concert. It's completely absent in the radio edit, however.
- A similar tactic was used in "Rest Stop". The second half features Sarah singing softly in the right stereo channel while the rest is filled with an audio recording of hell itself. In the last few seconds, the horrifying noises abruptly cut out leaving only Sarah's voice, which somehow makes it even worse, especially since her last words are cut off mid-sentence.
- "Dear Future Self" ends on a sustained strings chord that lasts much longer than is comfortable, becoming increasingly dissonant the longer it lasts. While not as bad as the above examples, it's still pretty unnerving.
- Lighter and Softer:
- Bonito Generation to Intro Bonito. While they both share a similar, quirky and fun sound, Intro Bonito has a somewhat more melancholy vibe with songs about how Growing Up Sucks. Bonito Generation, on the other hand, is much more lighthearted and colorful, even making the idea of growing up and adulthood more optimistic and hopeful.
- Civilisation II manages to be a case of this to its predecessor. I features a more universally apocalyptic, cynical tone about humanity destroying itself, but while II recounts the same level of distant, authoritative observation, it more highlights their ability to dream of and fight for a better future.
- Lyrical Dissonance: KKB is no stranger to this, and if they indulge in it, it usually lasts the length of an entire project.
- Many tracks on Intro Bonito can be rather introspective when they're not about childlike innocence, occasionally tackling subjects like racism, sexism, and the onset of adulthood. It can be hard to tell due to the music itself usually remaining pleasant and upbeat, and some of the lyrics' meanings hide behind the language barrier.
- Civilisation I and II, despite sonically being more upbeat and clean than the darker and noisy Time 'n' Place, features consistently serious lyrics contemplating the state of the world, mankind, and the uncertainty of the future of life on Earth.
- Lyrics/Video Mismatch: Played for Laughs with "Forever Summer Holiday", a song about celebrating the summer by going to the beach as "the sunshine says hello." The video starts off as the trio doing just that, and even as they're hit with a sudden rainstorm at night, the fun atmosphere still remains.
- Male Band, Female Singer: Gus and Jamie handle the instrumentals while Sarah serves as the frontwoman.
- Minimalistic Cover Art: Much of their Intro Bonito-era single cover art are simple cartoon images on pink backgrounds, with the mixtape's cover being the band's name in a speech bubble. With Bonito Generation, their covers became more lively photos of the trio, albeit still in in front of single-color backgrounds.
- Miniscule Rocking: Quite a few songs are under 3 minutes in length.
- Mr. Imagination: "Make Believe" is about someone who uses daydreams as a way to avoid their anxieties.
- Mundane Made Awesome: Many of their songs, especially found on Bonito Generation, are all about making simple, mundane joys and sound like the most cool and exciting thing ever, from taking pictures ("Picture This"), to jumping on a trampoline ("Trampoline"), to doing homework ("Homework"), to being outside in the fresh air ("Outside").
- New Sound Album:
- The band effectively reinvented their sound starting from TOTEP and Time 'n' Place, phasing out much of their J-Pop elements and shifting to that of their lo-fi London roots, such as Alternative Rock, Noise Pop, Twee Pop, and Synth-Pop.
- Civilisation I and II phased out the noisy rock elements in favor of returning to their cleaner and brighter MIDI-style sound, but retaining Sarah's soft, airy vocals and wistful lyrics, overall emphasizing a more sophisticated, surreal atmosphere resembling art pop.
- Not Growing Up Sucks: Implicitly the moral of "The Princess and the Clock". The titular princess lives a life being worshipped and cared for, but she desired to explore the world beyond the confinements of her tower, where time remains still and she never ages. It's only after she escapes and flies away freely does the clock finally start to move forward.
- Production Throwback: For the song "It's Bugsnax!", the band was asked to produce a song that sounded closer their earlier stuff, and it's a dead-on recreation of their Bonito Generation-era bright and happy dance pop. Even the accompanying single artwork◊ has the same "bandmate in front of a monochrome background" format.
- KKB is fond of using Nintendo 64 soundfonts, so some of their instruments and sound effects might sound familiar to avid gamers. One of their most popular examples is "Sick Beat", which makes heavy use of the "level start" sound effect from Super Mario 64 (and even ends on the riff it's from).
- The video version of "Homework" abruptly drops in a sample of "Sucker MCs" by RunD.M.C. near the end. On the album version, the sample is replayed, instead.
- Sanity Slippage:
- There doesn't seem to be a ton of obvious context to it, but it's heavily implied that in the video for "Time Today", Sarah is in some kind of mental ward.
- "Only Acting" changes from upbeat peppiness and the process of acting to acting opening a deep, dark pit of fears, phobias, traumas, and whatnot. To reflect this, the music changes from a gentle J-Pop rhythm to glitchy, ominous noise, then a blast of pure noise.
- Sequel Song: "Waking Up" is likely one to "I'd Rather Sleep", suggested further with how "I'd Rather Sleep" is the melancholy closer to Intro Bonito, while "Waking Up" is the upbeat intro to the following project, Bonito Generation.
- Shout-Out: "Graduation" features the line "Hey teacher! Leave those kids alone!"
- Slasher Smile: To really nail home "Only Acting"'s Darker and Edgier Surreal Horror, Sarah gives a few of these in the video, accompanied with a loud Scare Chord.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Kero Kero Bonito slides around a lot, but mostly leans more to the idealistic side. Intro Bonito has vague air of uncertainty and doubt regarding the future, Bonito Generation is a lot more optimistic with nary a hint of cynicism. TOTEP and Time 'n' Place appear to be somewhere in between, made more ambiguous by their grittier and more mature sound. Civilisation I was a much more existential, somewhat despairing work about doomsday, but its sequel picked up on the same themes and returned with much more hope and optimism.
- Small Town Boredom: From the aptly named "Small Town":And I would like to fly away
Around here everybody knows my name
And they all think I am so strange
Because I don't look quite the same
- Stylistic Suck:
- Gus's side project, "kane west", is a very tongue-and-cheek project signed onto the already Poe's Law-driven PC Music. With "rave" music mostly comprised of MIDI sounds and the occasional clunky voice sample, the result is surreal and probably very awkward to dance to.
- The band's music videos and general imagery (most prominently seen on their Instagram) following TOTEP are taken using a low-quality camcorder, giving everything a somewhat gritty home movie aesthetic.
- Surprise Creepy:
- The music video to "Homework" is a mostly straightforward performance of Sarah rapping/singing about doing her homework, but while the video doesn't directly draw attention to it, the colorful background inexplicably features several pictograms of people graphically shooting themselves.
- Much of TOTEP is already a far cry from the band's usual sound, but "The One True Path" and "Only Acting" end up getting aggressively dissonant and noisy at parts. The video version of "Only Acting" ups both the surprise and creepiness by glitching out by the second chorus until the ending.
- "Rest Stop" from Time 'n' Place begins as a soft and basic-sounding instrumental, similar to something that'd play during night time in Animal Crossing. Then the second half hits: a wall of screeching electronica, increasingly rough unorthodox sounds like insects buzzing and hurried vocal snippets, and a cacophony of eerie drills and what seems like gunfire.
- Take That, Audience!: A subversion of Kero Kero Bonito's Audience Participation shows up in "Babies Are So Strange": Jamie tells the viewer to mimic their usual silly instructions, then drops "...I bet you look REALLY stupid."
- Textless Album Cover: All of their albums and singles, with Intro Bonito just barely averting this trope with a speech bubble containing Japanese.
- Thanking the Viewer: The rare track "Fans (Are So Cool)" is all about this. The song birthed from a 2014 campaign where fans who sent a message to the band's email would be namedropped in a song, which would then be emailed back to them.
- Thousand-Yard Stare: In a sharp contrast to the upbeat and colorful cover to Bonito Generation, the cover art to Time 'n' Place features Sarah giving one right to the viewer, a glimpse of the emotionally heavy and bittersweet sound the album beholds.
- Time Capsule: The cover art to Time 'n' Place mostly consists of contents from a time capsule Sarah buried, one mentioned in "Dear Future Self".You'll find enclosed, a passport photograph
The headlines and a railcard
It's funny how physical us humans are
- Title Track: The first two tracks of Intro Bonito are titled "Bonito Intro" and "Intro Bonito".
- Vocal Evolution: Sarah's voice started off a little rough and deeper-sounding than present, and over time developed into being more melodic. By the time of TOTEP and Time 'n' Place, whether because of further evolution and/or the band's overall sound shift, her singing has also become much softer.
- Wanderlust Song: "Flyway" is about watching migratory birds as a child and wanting to join them. The Reality Subtext also makes it a Grief Song.
- Word Salad Lyrics: A penchant of theirs. Don't try to make any narrative sense out of the track "Kero Kero Bonito".
- Word Salad Title: Deliberately so, but their band name appears randomly constructed no matter what language you interpret it to be in.