Here’s a story for you: last summer I went to go see The Flaming Lips play a show in Berkeley and Ween was opening for them. I was not overly familiar with Ween, though I remember seeing a video of theirs on “Bevis and Butthead”, the one that went “push the little daisies and make them come up.” Whatever. Seems like one of those bands that do more schtick than anything. When they actually started playing, it suddenly came clear to me that I could not stand them. They’re perfectly good musicians and seem to have a lot of fun and have a lot of fans, but my God, they are absolutely something that I cannot get into.
So how does this relate to King Kong’s latest, Buncha Beans? I’d have to say that King Kong joins Ween as one of those bands that I just cannot bring myself to like. There are elements that I think are good, but as a whole I just can’t do it. King Kong has been around since 1988, so clearly there is a fanbase and I applaud that. Just count me out.
Lead singer and guitarist, Ethan Buckler has a voice reminiscent of Calvin Johnson of Beat Happening. I just happen to be a fan of Beat Happening, I dig the lo-fi aesthetic and the child-like playfulness. When I heard Buckler’s voice, I liked how it stood out and it’s boldness. In the opening track, “Bulldozers”, his voice comes out setting a tone for the song. It has a simple 1-2 beat and is rather similar to Beat Happening songs, which is perhaps why I sort of enjoyed this song. My one complaint is that Beat Happening songs are usually 1-2 minutes long, never letting the constant repetition get too grating. However “Bulldozers” goes on for about 4 minutes, long enough for me to get tired of it halfway through.
The length of the songs is probably my biggest complaint about the band. I like to think that I have a good sense of humor about things, but I feel that when a song relies too heavily on the joke, it’s best to keep it brief. Perhaps I’m taking it all wrong and these lyrics referencing Taco Bell and hungry tigers are meant to be absurdist, but it would be refreshing to hear some earnestness and some feeling behind them. Absurdity can only take you so far, but the best music connects in an emotional way with the listener.
There are some songs worth noting; “Bug Make,” despite its near grating repetition, has a really great bass groove that gets broken up by sweeping synths. It’s those synths that save the song from itself and gives it a different and more interesting sound. Much of the album relies on a bluesy, funk groove broken down to its simplest parts. In a way it works with its weird lyrics, but it also makes it predictable. Interrupting it with synths and electronic touches makes the sound a bit more rounded and makes the songs sound more unique.
My reaction to King Kong’s Buncha Beans is similar to my reaction to Ween. I can appreciate them as a band but it’s something that I can’t get into. I think it’s awesome that they have a fanbase who dig their funk-based absurdist songs. After listening to Buncha Beans a few times, I can certainly understand why people might like them. There’s something charming about their sound, but they could benefit from bringing some depth into their odd songwriting. Otherwise they become just that funny band named after an ape.