“There’s a lot of meaning and power in mundane things,” Jamie Bulled tells me over Skype. “Things you don’t notice on a daily basis sometimes have the most impact on you.”
Bulled, 23, is one-third of the English pop band Kero Kero Bonito, whose first full-length album, Bonito Generation, is out today. Kero Kero Bonito make chipper, left-of-center music that preaches the beauty of life’s smallest pleasures. Their squelchy synthpop sound, which calls to mind 8-bit video-game soundtracks and the 2000s-nostalgia hits of London label PC Music, works well for their playful subject matter. Bonito Generation includes songs about jumping on trampolines, ditching a school graduation, and even checking in on your parents to see if they miss you. “There’s so much stuff to do / But now I just want to snooze,” sings lead singer Sarah Midori Perry, 24, who switches liberally between Japanese and English for her vocals. “Waking up is the hardest part, but then it’s essential!” Hypercheerful to such a degree it’s often hilarious, Kero Kero Bonito’s music can play like the soundtrack to some long-forgotten animated TV show. The result is effortlessly catchy.
“Those things are a lot more funny and interesting than a pompous, pretentious proclamation of something like love and war,” says Gus Lobban, 23, a producer for the band who also performs as the PC Music–signed artist Kane West. Lobban says the band is inspired to make feel-good music inspired by super-simple pop, offering up Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” as an example. Their sound, which rests on nostalgia and doesn’t fuss with complicated lyrics, is supposed to be as easily relatable as possible.
Kero Kero Bonito, whose name is inspired by the Japanese word for a frog’s croak, started in 2013 when friends Lobban and Bulled were looking for a singer for their band. Interested in J-pop, the two posted on MixB, a message board for Japanese expatriates in London. After fielding applications from Adele-sounding singer-songwriters, they found a perfect match in Sarah Midori Perry. She hadn’t had any experience as a singer or musician before deciding to give the frontwoman thing a go, but her robotic voice matches the silly, sometimes sarcastic lyricism of KKB’s songwriting. “Hold the camera high and click / Exercise your right to picture this / Don’t forget to show everybody you’ve ever known,” she sings on “Picture This,” a song about the joy of snapping photos with a cynical undercurrent poking fun at the act of spending every waking moment Instagramming. Perry is primarily a visual artist, and she solidifies the band’s kawaii-adjacent aesthetic onstage, incorporating props and costumes. “We see live performances as immersive experiences, so we try to always think about that more than just performing the music,” Perry says.
Listening to Kero Kero Bonito’s lyricism feels very instructional. It’s music to dance to, for one, but songs like “Break,” which instructs listeners to take a short breather during a hard day, or “Heard a Song,” about finding a great new tune on the radio, sound like lines ripped from a children’s book. It’s a vibe that might lead some to hear KKB’s music as not possessing a ton of substance (to which the band says: Look at the playful genius of The B-52’s.) But shadowing every joyful little KKB song is the presence of relatable stress. “Some days are tough when you gotta keep up,” Perry sings on “Big City,” a song about feeling yourself in a big metropolis. “There’s just no time for taboo,” she offers on their single “Lipslap,” a trippy, wordy dis about miscommunication.
“People are really quite into music where not a lot happens, I think,” Lobban says, a subject matter that feels refreshing in KKB. Their core philosophy is about giving listeners permission to take it easy on themselves and to unabashedly tune out of crushing reality (which America has plenty of these days). Take the day off of work! Sure, ditch your graduation ceremony! Even “Trampoline,” a song about, yeah, jumping on a trampoline, carries a universal message of taking a little time out of your day to do something nice for yourself. “Full twist, backflip, just set your body free,” Perry sings. “Life looks better when you’re on your trampoline.”