Album Review: Bananagun – The True Story of Bananagun

[Full Time Hobby; 2020]

I wasn’t even thirty seconds into album highlight “People Talk Too Much” when I fell in love with Bananagun. As soon as the single found its way into my inbox the obsession lasted for days on end, eventually making me choose the song as the fitting opener of the first edition of my new radio show Comète Sauvage.

This infatuation doesn’t exactly come as a surprise, since the Melbourne-based collective have this mesmerising quality of grabbing both your attention and heart on first listen. Theirs is an exhilarating and unique take on tropicália that not only benefits from a different geographical (and thus cultural) situation, but also refuses hermeticism by crossing an insane multitude of influences. In this way, Bananagun manage to take on what is generally referred to as “exotic” without ever being appropriative or cynical.

The True Story of Bananagun boldly sets its point de départ in a place somewhere between London and Rio de Janeiro, as it opens with a bongo-bong heavily reminiscent of Os Mutantes’ “A Minha Menina” in both its rhythmic section and vocal harmonies. Galloping with bright guitars and open-chested humbleness – “there is nothing special about me / just another apple on the tree” – they then embark on a dizzying trip through global psychedelic landscapes, honest and unafraid of assuming the infinite references they tackle.  This is visible in the impeccable transition from “The Master” to explosive single “People Talk Too Much”, which breathes in Fela Kuti flashbacks without ever completely shining away from tropicalist territories. The Os Mutantes influence is later reprised in the sunshine-ridden “She Now”, which comes complete with a touch of cuíca and a Kinks reference en passant.

There’s also room for the odd random experimentation, as “Bird Up!” leads us deeper into the Amazonian jungle in a short-yet-intense feverish trance, and for more laid-back sonorities, like a touch of bossa in “Out Of Reach”. But what is most admirable is the way they manage to stay clear of over-using any of these styles – like Goldilocks would say, it’s “just right.”

But if a man does not live by bread alone, neither does psychedelia by nostalgia. “Perfect Stranger”, for example, exists in here and now creative interactions, mixing the crème de la crème of olden days with a bolder, more up-to-date approach. Finally, closing trio “Mushroom Bomb”, “Modern Day Problems”, and “Taking The Present For Granted” revisit a thicker garage often found in more obscure early psychedelia (Decca has a splendid compilation of that particular wave), nevertheless investing in instrumental details and other surprises.

The name of the band itself, which they describe as evoking “non-violent combat,” is enough of a clue to understand how Bananagun perceive themselves and their music, showcasing the right dose of naïvety by avoiding the self-importance trap. The True Story of Bananagun is as exciting and addictive as debut albums come, appropriately soundtracking a much-needed hope in the future of the genre while brightening up early summer in the northern hemisphere.