- Vancouver, British Columbia - I was rather delighted to go through my inbox and find that I had been contacted by Tokoloshe Records, the independent label founded by KONGOS and their father John Kongos, with the request to review KONGOS’ new album, Lunatic. The four brothers (Johnny, Jesse, Danny, and Dylan) had already released the album in South Africa where it has really taken off, but KONGOS' worldwide release is later this month. I was excited to get the opportunity to review something fresh, but there was a bit of trepidation, as if I thought the album blew, I would write as much. And no one likes being the bearer of bad news.
Well, today is not that day. I’m going to tell you right now to get this album as soon as you can. As soon as I heard the sea shanty-esque beats matched with that youthful energy on “Come With Me,” my ears perked up. By the next track, “Sex On The Radio,” I was really digging these guys. By “I Want To Know” I was completely hooked.
Speaking of “Sex On The Radio,” that’s probably the most complex song on the album. There’s a lot going, and where the song starts isn’t reflective of either the bridge or the chorus. But it’s still very cohesive, and definitely a track worth bragging about. Especially given how ironic and full of hurt the lyrics can be at times.
There is definitely a lot going on in this album, but it doesn’t feel unfocused at all. Between the tribal percussion, the accordion (that’s what it is, right?), the delicious bass, and the exceptionally upbeat guitar riffs, there’s just enough room for the earnest and tone-perfect vocals.
There’s also a surprising amount of unity on the album as well. This isn’t just a smattering of songs thrown on, but a very deliberate choice in the track order. When I first heard the album, it was through their website with a different track order – their lead single “I’m Only Joking” was the first song. But when I listened to the album in order, there was a distinct shift in mood and it felt far more cohesive. “I’m Only Joking” was a little more goofy as an opening track, but has a far darker tone to it when presented near the end of the album. So bravo on that.
I think it's worth mentioning as well that “It’s A Good Life” reminds me of “Instant Karma” by John Lennon, but not enough to piss me off. And the more I think about it, there’s a strange lyrical link between the two songs. Congrats guys, you’ve got Lennon points.
You know, listening to it, I’m reminded of two groups: The Boxer Rebellion and Kasabian. The Boxer Rebellion’s Union was an album I had scooped up based on the strength of the lead single, but ultimately found it to be disappointing. In that one song, they had highlighted all their best attributes, but played it safe for most of the album. On the whole, it was okay, but could have been so much better. In direct contrast, KONGOS doesn’t play it safe but challenges the listener with every song, as you’re never sure which direction they’ll go in next; this produces a far more stimulating album. KONGOS in many ways sounds like Boxer Rebellion…just far better.
As for Kasabian, I’m hearing a lot of the blending of subtle world music and the intriguing bridge / chorus relationships that Kasabian can pull off fairly well. Now Kasabian has been consistently releasing quality music for quite a few years, but I would say that KONGOS is far more lighthearted and, if their cheeky website is any indicator, far more fun.
I really hope these guys make it big. There are a lot of hack musicians out there making subpar music who inexplicably get a lot of radio play, and it can be refreshing to hear genuine talent really striving to make a name for themselves.
When KONGOS new release Lunatic hits shelves (and iTunes I would hope) on July 24th, I actively encourage you to give them a sample. And hey, they also have an album from 2007 called Debut. I think I’m going to check that out.
Steve’s Track Picks
Sex on the Radio
I Want to Know
I’m Only Joking
Rating: 4/5 Sour Grapes