Before diving into Bananagun’s debut record, it seems only fair to warn you there is a lot going on here. Mainly inspired by Afrobeat and Tropicália but also taking snatches of jazz fusion, funk, garage rock, and late-period Beatles, The True Story of Bananagun, is a full-blown Technicolor, psychedelic odyssey of a record.
All these musical elements smashing together and the willingness to experiment is both a strength and a weakness. While it is key to what makes the record exciting, there also some tracks that feel either over-stuffed or excessively freewheeling. The second single off the album Out of Reach is an excellent example of this. One of the poppier songs on display, it is a jaunty summery affair that infuses their psych sound with a soul vibe. It feels like it would be a perfect three-minute song but instead wanders on for five-plus minutes, slightly outstaying it’s welcome. Thankfully this is not true for most of the album, which clocks in at a remarkably tight (for a psych record) 40 minutes.
Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with a longer track. In fact, the undoubted highlight here, People Talk Too Much, is also the longest track coming in at a little under seven minutes. Given how heavily Fela Kuti influences the song, it may not be the most original composition here, but it is absolutely infectious. From its super-funky bass to its driving percussive rhythms to its almost trance-inducing repeated chorus, it’s the kind of track that makes you want to immediately jump up and dance to regardless of your surroundings – even if you’re not the dancing type (like your reviewer here).
Much like the experimentation, the whole Afrobeat/Tropicália-infused psych vibe here has its pluses and minuses. On the plus side, it gives proceedings a vibrancy and an urgency. It feels immersive like you are being hurtled through a kaleidoscopic jungle. However, there are times the band pushes it a bit too far. We probably don’t need quite as many random sounds of nature, and we certainly don’t need a 90-second track of just kookaburra and parrot calls (Bird Up!). At that point, you start to suspect that The Mighty Boosh secretly produced the LP. Now, clearly, we are not supposed to take any of that stuff seriously, but all the same, it whiffs of overindulgence and eye-roll worthy hipster irony.
All that being said there is no denying The True Story of Bananagun is one helluva trip. One worth taking? For the most part, yes. Sure some moments come over as gimmicky or self-indulgent, but it is hard not to be sucked in behind the band’s sun-drenched melodies, freewheel jamming, and good-time vibes.