Sometime in the 1800s, rich people in London started doing the opposite of what so many do today. As poorer people left their rural villages and towns, drawn by jobs and what I can only imagine was the enticing chance to know more than like 32 people in total, industrializing cities beckoned. Gutted for the wealthier middle classes, then, who did what people with money always do: they made a plan get as far away as possible from everyone poor, ideally in a first-class train carriage or luxury vehicle. In this case, that meant that the newly wealthier people fanned a bit further out. And so suburbia came to define the areas both within and just outside cities, where a cleaner sprawl of nice houses would provide shelter from the filthy squalor of the metropolis.
Somehow, Kero Kero Bonito have managed to squash so many textures of suburbia—inertia, comfort, a content sleepiness, something you want to resist because it’s boring as hell—into a new album. On Monday, the London trio surprise-released Time ‘n’ Place, their second full-length after 2016’s synthy Bonito Generation. And within its 12 tracks they’ve changed location noticeably. They’ve left behind the club dancefloor and video-game interface of their earlier work, with its twinkles and glitches. Instead, this album encompasses a hard-to-pin-down affinity with being a teen, and probably being bored, living in a suburban home that never feels big enough for all the personal space you wish you had. Time ‘n’ Place sets that blend of claustrophobia and warmth to sound, feeling like an album about coming into your own as a person, without strictly being an album about adolescence.
When the band’s vocalist and chief lyricist Sarah Midori Perry was 13, she and her family left the suburbs of Otaru, on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, and moved to the UK. Over the past couple of years, Sarah’s dreams kept pulling her back to her childhood, with certain images cropping up as though her mind’s eye were flicking through old photo albums. Some nights, she would see a water park she’d visited. At other times, her former primary school hallway would stretch before her. Then, her brother sent her a stark photograph: it showed the site of their old home on Hokkaido, flattened by a demolition. The wooden slats of a shed flank the remains of the home on one side, and tufts of grass grow in tangles in front of the plot. “I felt like I’d lost something, even though I didn’t know I needed it,” she says, quoted in a press release.
And so this album feels like a bit of a rebirth (my words, not the band’s). Between Sarah’s dreams, the photo, the death of a childhood pet and deaths in the families of her bandmates Gus Lobban and Jamie Bulled, now Kero Kero Bonito tap into a different energy from their earlier work. If you’d heard of them before, you may have slotted them in next to PC Music and its discordant, sometimes shrill, aggressively digital take on pop. 2014’s Intro Bonito mixtape bleeped and booped, propelled by a mixture of thumping drum machines and bilingual Japanese-English lyrics about shrimp and matcha and supermarket deals. Bonito Generation followed as playfully a couple of years earlier, marked out by the primary color-background artwork for each of its singles.
But this one? I mean, they sound like a "band" band: they’re playing live instruments, deploying a scuzzy guitar sound wobbling over crashing cymbals while Sarah sings over the top. “Flyway” soars with the indie euphoria of The Most Serene Republic or the Flaming Lips. Sarah literally turns lyrics about rain into musings on memory and the fuzz of nostalgia. On opener “Outside” she sings over a whizzing cacophony of drums, bass, guitar and synths: “I hear the drizzle drumming down / And then I realise in all of my life / I don't think that I / Remember it being / So vivid.” Then, the bottom falls out of the song and it sounds like you’ve gone from spinning in space to being dropped unceremoniously in a jazz lounge.
It’s weird thinking about the moments from your past that stick with you, along the lines of the rainfall that likely made an impression on Sarah. Beyond all the big stuff—first kiss, that ridiculous party, your first encounter with the death of someone you really cared about—we spend hours as teenagers going through what feels like the boring fabric of the everyday. And this is where the album intersects with the broad notion of what suburban life means, what growing up feels like, and how you can “come of age” at any point. A comfortable life in a quiet place is a privilege. But it also facilitates a breeding ground for a particular kind of navel-gazing and reflection—there’s a reason the uncontainable energy of teens has always felt at odds with the somewhat stifling architecture of suburbia. And there’s a reason that turning to music has been such an effective use of that energy.
When Sarah sings about the exhaustion of social-media posturing on Time ‘n’ Place’s “Only Acting,” she can speak to people who remember the drudgery of the suburbs, and those who don’t. “Visiting Hours” will probably dredge up memories for anyone who watched an unwell loved one seem to disappear into the starched sheets of their assigned bed. Really, these are universal themes—you don’t need to have grown up somewhere sleepy and safe for them to resonate. But they’re given a sense of place somewhere outside of the city, by virtue of Kero Kero now sounding more like the sort of band who’d practice in someone’s family garage than the ‘play a 2 AM electropop DJ set’ band of their earlier work. They’re still colorful and vibrant. But shades of dark punctuate the light now, too. And surely, every kid who grew up in the not-the-city, not-a-village in-between of suburbia knows a fair bit about that balance.
'Time 'n' Place is out now via Polyvinyl in the US, and Kero Kero Bonito in the rest of the world.
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This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.