Tank and The Bangas
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In 2017, the New Orleans group Tank and The Bangas performed an NPR ‘Tiny Desk’ concert to a rapt and thoroughly impressed audience. Millions of views on YouTube meant that many others joined the ranks who were spellbound by the raucous bonhomie and impeccable musicianship that filled the intimate surroundings that day. Other excellence notwithstanding, it was the charismatic presence and multi-faceted voice of titular lead singer Tarriona “Tank” Ball that propelled it to “must-see” heights. Blending singing, rapping and spoken word, she gave a performance full of surprises and dexterous vocal stylings.
Their independently released debut Think Tank (2013) was a jambalaya of jazz-inflected soul and pop with a side serving of rock that was, by turns, quirky, charming and bubbling with boundless potential. Potential that follow-up Green Balloon does a good job of fulfilling, without sacrificing the wit and humanity that sparked so furiously on their debut.
For this, their major label debut, there are signs that things might be getting more serious. Modern day jazz giant Robert Glasper pops up in the latter half of the album, while the early portion features tracks produced by Jack Splash. Inevitably the question is thus: does the pressure of those big hitters dilute the easy charm that oozed from Think Tank or do they elevate the already joyful group to new heights?
While Green Balloon does at times veer towards a more serious jazz tone, the same irreverent humor and “Disney Soul” still lives on. In fact, that phrase (coined by group vocalist Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph) is a simple but very effective and apt descriptor. There persists a wide-eyed cherubic innocence alongside the more grownup themes that are the usual suspects when it comes to soul music. So much soul music is, by its very nature, adult themed—the continuous battle between carnal desires and the love of god—but Tank and The Bangas bring a playfulness that is far from childish and acts as a breath of fresh air whistling through the genre.
That charm is perfectly evident on “Spaceships,” with its child-led post chorus section, the modulations of Tank’s delivery and some frankly bonkers lyrics. I cannot adequately express the joy that coursed through my veins when the “Golf course / Golf course / Golf course” lyric made me spit out my morning cereal in surprise and childish delight. This over-sharing notwithstanding, the song goes surprisingly hard but manages to retain that same tongue-in-cheek whimsy that energizes and elevates the group to some heady heights. The same feeling is maintained by the swaggering “Dope Girl Magic,” with its Zaytoven beat and cocksure lyrical delivery.
A further factor in the immense likeability of the group is evidenced with ”Ants,” which proves they have the uncanny ability to switch codes and tones at the drop of a hat, as evidenced by its dreamy Rhodes led opening that segues into a bumping, rolling groove punctuated by woozy keyboard lines and perfectly celestial backing vocals. “Hot Air Balloons” is as buoyant and blissful as the title might suggest and “Forgetfulness” is a prime slice of the everyday being elevated by a playful groove, an easy charisma that oozes from the band and the changes in tone and style of Ball’s impressive vocals.
If there is a lull in proceedings, it comes around the center of the album. An interlude and prelude halt things somewhat before there’s a perfectly pleasant, but ultimately pointless weed song in “I Don’t Get High.” When you add “Happy Town” to that trio, it amounts to a slight bump in the road, but things soon pick up with the sweet melody and bumping beat of “Nice Things.” Before a jazzy run to round out the album, comes an earworm that burrows in to your brain like an earwig on speed. “Smoke.Netflix.Chill.” may one day be horribly anachronistically titled, but its tune will remain evergreen for years.
The closing three tracks (not including the slight “In London”) show Ball in all of her glorious vocal power. A piano ballad laden with strings, “Mr. Lion” offers a chance to hear her voice as “straight” as possible and it fills the song with light, joy and an innocence that illuminates all. “Lazy Days” meanwhile shimmers with incandescent keys, a snapping beat and the inimitable Tank expressing herself in all the ways she can.
For all of the manic energy, vocal shape-shifting and tonal shifts that appear on the first sixteen tracks, it is the album closer that is the most deeply affecting. Aural bliss incarnate, “Colors Change” is heavenly. The opening three minutes are a divine rumination on why a relationship faded to the accompaniment of flute, stardust keys and a pizzicato strings.
Around half way through though it changes slightly in both musical and lyrical tone. Musically it becomes a sparser acoustic guitar led piece, while the lyrics have turned from wistful questioning to a belligerent, witty, emboldened soliloquy on the power of womanhood: “Did I confuse you at how I could be a sea for you and land for him? / I was both of these women, I am, I is / I am swamp water and ocean tree / Coconut water and mint leaves / Healer and hurricane, spit and shoot / Too fast food for you / Too ready, too weighted / Too window open / Too side door swingin' / Too woman?” It is majestic, utterly immersive and deeply moving and as such rounds off the album in a quite unexpectedly brilliant way.
At seventeen tracks deep, it was easy to guess there might have been some lull, but here the impact of that is minimized by the sheer surety of touch of the musicians and composers involved. But the cherry on the top, the piece-de-resistance, the cream that the cat chased is the diamond of a voice that Tarriona “Tank” Ball possesses. Like a cut diamond, it dazzles from all angles, whether singing like Jill Scott, rapping with the flow of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes or speaking with the dulcet tones of a charismatic earth mother. It is thrilling to hear her contort her delivery and change the character of her voice at will—she is a superstar in the waiting. Or at least should be.
Notable Tracks: "Ants" | “Colors Change” | "Smoke.Netflix.Chill." | “Spaceships”