My mother has two criteria for what makes for a good song: Can you sing along to it? Can you dance to it? The more I think about this, the more I realise how concise, precise, and effective this is to break down songwriting. This is not to say that all music you can sing and dance to is better than any to which you can only do one, but really if it doesn’t make you want to move about or sing along or even drum irritatingly on the closest available surface, why are you listening to it?
I say this in order to introduce you to The True Story of Bananagun, the debut album of Melbourne-based five-piece, Bananagun. A globe and genre-spanning record, it is also in many ways a statement by lead singer Nick van Bakel who is listed as the sole songwriter as well as guitarist, flautist, trumpeter, harpsichordist, and percussionist. But as much as this might lead you to believe this was some form of sole voice or self-indulgence, this is very much the product of a full-band collaboration.
At just shy of 40 minutes, there is a blissfully streamlined feel to the record. Over its 11 tracks, it breezes by jumping from the tropical grooves of opener ‘Bang go the Bongoes’, through to the flute-led and bossa nova-flecked closer ‘Taking the Present for Granted’, taking in African grooves, drum and bass beats, the jagged guitar work of Os Mutantes, and on album highlight ‘People Talk Too Much’, appropriately allowing the vocals to get stripped back and a funk breakdown to take centre stage.
Amazingly, over this relentlessly diverse approach, it always feels like this wide bank of inspirations has cohered into a satisfying whole, delivering a clear and precise band vision.
Bananagun’s name is meant to recall a sort of non-violent combat, the kind practised in playground games. This almost describes the two sides of their sound: a boundless, almost child-like sense of invention, experimentation, and playfulness to their sound but also a certain lack of punch to it.
While there’s nothing objectionable on the record, there’s also nothing that really stands out; it feels a bit like the experience of listening to early Girl Talk records – hearing snippets of recognisable tunes and melodies and moments that you can latch onto as being impressive, but they never feel fully developed enough to stick around for the time needed to really fulfil their promise.
Ultimately, The True Story of Bananagun may be too light to be truly memorable – leaping between ideas and flourishes with reckless abandon but never really having any that linger. As a start though, it’s all very listenable and there’s a lot of promise here.
In the description notes on Bananagun’s Bandcamp page, they talk of the album being about “Finding beauty in even the most turbulent of times,” and I think they’ve achieved that. Maybe not everything has to last forever, but sometimes it’s enough to be a source of joy while it’s here.
It’s a record that you might find yourself humming along to, and you can definitely dance to it, so what more can you ask for?