Kero Kero Bonito’s ‘Civilisation II’ is unique, hopeful take on state of the world

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Grade: 4.5/5.0

After a year of quarantine, the impending doom of Kero Kero Bonito’s (KKB) apocalyptic 2019 EP, Civilisation I, seems closer than ever before. Today, climate change, political unrest and expanding global conflict have mirrored the warnings KKB had in store for us just two years prior. While the human experience hasn’t improved much since 2019, the experimental pop trio’s new release, Civilisation II, tells tales of a similar future, though this time with a bit more hope. 

The three-track EP takes place in the past, present and future tenses, using incredible imagery, retro-instrumentations and Sarah Bonito’s clear vocals to echo the pains and triumphs the human race has experienced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Themes of mundaneness and repetition are contrasted by hope for a better tomorrow, along with upbeat compositions that one can both dance and cry to.

The EP’s opener, “The Princess and the Clock,” is a Rapunzel-esque fairytale of a princess who is locked inside a tower for the rest of her days. The track sets the stage for one of the running themes throughout Civilisation II, discussing the isolation of the past year. Bonito sings, “As the nights ran together blurring into years/ Her brushstrokes never disappeared,” perfectly capturing the feeling of days blurring together, a shared experience throughout the beginning of the pandemic. Backing the storybook narrative is a playful combination of slap-bass synths, shiny bells and a fast-paced drum machine, creating an atmosphere of hope behind the somewhat depressing story. By the end of the song, though, the once-sequestered princess grows a pair of wings and escapes her tower, as her subjects watch her fly away with a feather hanging in the air outside her window.

While the opening track serves as a metaphor for the pandemic, the EP’s second track, “21/04/20,” is a literal recollection of a spring day in early quarantine. Reminiscing on a sunny walk in April, KKB writes an idealized anecdote of the early, “lazy” days of COVID-19, filled with closed shops, calls to friends and reruns of TV shows. Avoiding any sort of on-the-nose references to the pandemic, KKB instead states, “I hear a song riding the breeze/ Happy Birthday to Eloise/ Then mom and dad both let out a cheer/ They’re gonna throw a party another year,” the clever lines capturing the essence of a pandemic birthday. The instrumentation is equally, if not more upbeat than the previous track, and further develops the hopefulness within the EP while holding onto the danceability of your typical KKB arrangement.

Civilisation II’s closing track, “Well Rested,” is a large departure from the prior songs on the EP. Instead of bubbly basslines and narrative storytelling, the seven-minute-long “Well Rested” takes a more futuristic path, with harsh synths, delayed vocals and hypnotic lyrics about the end of the world. Preaching that humans take care of the Earth in order to delay an inevitable apocalypse, Bonito’s cultlike chants create an eeriness around the arrangement, which is only amplified by the distorted backing tracks. Although very different in form, KKB’s message of hope still resonates within the song, with lyrics such as, “The resurrection will come/ Only when Gaia requires is/ It will not come soon/ If we care for our mother.” “Well Rested” is not the easiest track to listen to, and definitely will not be one to throw on repeat for some fun listening, yet it serves its purpose as a clear call to action, and wraps up the EP superbly.

Civilisation II is one of the most impressive works, if not the most impressive, that Kero Kero Bonito has released since their conception. While many albums about quarantine have become a bit tired and predictable, the EP comes with a completely unique, overall positive take on the experience. Keeping the KKB ethos of mixing the experimental with the mainstream, Civilisation II is a uniquely fun listen, with a playful nature and hopeful messaging — which we all could use a bit more of today.

Contact Ian Fredrickson at [email protected].