For the first iteration of #TuesdayTunes on this blog, I’d like to let you know about a band called KONGOS.
I hope you’ve heard of them, but if not, I encourage you to read this article I wrote about them in 2016. I’m not entirely sure how I discovered them, but I think it started with their single, “Come with Me Now,” which made it to the Alaska airwaves in 2014. Following that, the band came up here for a concert with American Authors at Humpy’s in July of 2015, and they did not disappoint.
That’s us, in the front row on the far left, after I’d caught Jesse’s drumstick and the drunk girl who’d poured beer on us had been escorted out.
Basically, it was epic.
Fast forward to Fair time 2016, and I’m sitting in the Wasilla Mocha Moose with an old, work-issued iPhone pressed to my ear, scrambling to re-frame my interview questions for Dylan Kongos instead of Johnny Kongos, whom I’d been promised. Prior to that call, Dylan was one of my favorites, so it should’ve been an “upgrade,” right? Unfortunately, I think the brothers were dealing with a personal crisis at the time, and the connection was poor, and I was flustered, so it probably wasn’t a shining moment for either of us. What made it worse, I thought, was the utterly disappointing turnout at the Fair. Maybe they were still wound a little tightly from the previous days’ events, maybe I felt guilty for telling them, “oh yeah, it’ll definitely be a full house,” but I’d say the lack of showing definitely affected their performance.
Now, you might wonder, at this point, why I’m bringing up their “failures” in a feature like this, but let me assure you, there’s a reason for it.
In September of 2018, KONGOS released the first episode of Bus Call on YouTube, an eight-episode series documenting life on tour for the band of brothers. (They also have a podcast called “The Front Lounge,” but I haven’t checked that out yet.) Although it’s easy to see celebrities — be they actors or musicians or authors or whomever — as the people who “made it,” and assume their lives are much better than ours, this series really humanized them in a way I hadn’t seen before. It’s one thing to hear “tour life” is grueling, but it’s quite another to watch four brothers go through it right before your eyes — and lemme tell you, a lot of the time, it’s not pretty.
Of course, it didn’t help that they also got screwed by their label in the process.
I mention all this as both an illustration of how the band has gotten where it is today, and an explanation for their current music. I think they were smart to gain the following they did before going indie again, even if that wasn’t their original plan. As a self-published poet, I see how important gaining that fandom is, and I respect them for having the courage and integrity to say no to The Man when you no longer see eye to eye.
At the beginning of this year, KONGOS released the first part of their fourth album, 1929. Although it’s still clearly KONGOS, Part I of this three-part album is definitely a departure from Lunatic and Egomaniac. They’ve ditched their label, so that probably has something to do with the slight change in sound and style, but they’re also maturing, and it’s exciting to hear.
The album starts with “Something New,” which is of course a perfect way signify this new chapter of KONGOS. The accordion solo in “Stand Up” is a little much for me, but they follow it up with the upbeat “Pay for the Weekend,” which really revives the momentum. But it slows down again with “Wild Heart,” which I thought was pretty boring, and “Real Life,” which seems necessary somehow, but also a little “meh.” Then comes “Keep Your Head,” which is quintessential KONGOS with its strong bass line, heavy synth, and a little bit of talk- and shout-singing. Basically, it’s catchy as all get-out. After that, you have the solid rock track, “Everything Must Go,” and from there, it’s a grooving sweep to the end, which isn’t my favorite, but it works well enough.
Part II of 1929 is set to release Oct. 1, but you can hear a few of the singles — “Western Fog” has a solid 80s vibe that I love — on their website, which I’ve linked at the top.
Here’s your take away: This band has a really interesting story and an incredibly original sound. I mean, how many rock bands (however alternative) do you know that can successfully employ an accordion as well as strong African drumbeats inspired by the band’s lived experience? Lunatic is my favorite album, so be sure to listen to that one, as well as Egomaniac, and watch Bus Call — fall in love with the band — before listening to 1929.
Band rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐/5
Latest album rating (pending full release): ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5
What other bands do you like?