Quirky musical masterminds Tank and the Bangas are the soul-meets-jazz-meets-hip-hop New Orleans-based fivepiece that is delivering an entirely fresh sound to today’s sonic landscape. Formed in 2011 after the members met each other at an open mic show, the band quickly introduced themselves to the world with their ear-catching, heart-lifting debut Thinktank in 2013. Though it took another six years to receive a full-length follow-up, 2019’s Green Balloon proved to be well worth the wait. Since then, the band has been steadily treating the world to new releases, with a string of singles, several collaborations, and a six-track EP.
Though a long list of musicians have lent their talents to Tank and the Banga’s discography, both on and off stage, the group is primarily formed of five members: Joshua Johnson on drums, Merell Burkett, Jr. on keyboard, Albert Allenback on saxophone and flute, Norman Spence on bass and synth, and last but not least, Tarriona “Tank” Ball on lead vocals.
While blending genres has become popular in recent years, Tank and the Bangas have taken this a step further and created a genre that is entirely their own. The sonic equivalent of revealing colors nobody has ever seen before, their ever-growing discography manages to be zany, polished, brilliant, mature and youthful all at once. Standout track on Green Balloon, “Smoke.Netflix.Chill.,” harkens back to 90s boombox hip-hop, à la Souls of Mischief and A Tribe Called Quest. Following this is a song that goes in the complete opposite direction—slow, sensual, dreamy, and a little kooky, “Mr. Lion” is a sweet ballad with classical influences. Tank and the Bangas have the magic touch that somehow makes these two tracks flow right into each other (with the help of a brief yet beautiful interlude).
If the unique sound of Tank and the Bangas weren’t already enough, the lyrics—penned by lead vocalist, Ball—are enough to solidify the band’s status as one of the best up-and-comers around. It may come as no surprise that Ball got her creative start as a slam poet—her poetic prowess shines through all of Tank and the Bangas’ tracks. When it comes to her art, Ball isn’t afraid to open up, as suggested by the title of her recently published debut poetry collection, Vulnerable AF. The book of poems is raw and unguarded, but this is nothing new for her. Though Tank and the Bangas’ sound tends to be vibrant and jovial, they also make room, sonically and lyrically, for darker moments.
In Green Balloon, a series of interludes bring to light a more pensive, melancholic side of the sunny lead singer. In “Floating,” hazy vocals and soft piano paint a brief picture of a disassociated Ball as she scrolls aimlessly through her phone, too dazed to keep up with “things that are important.” She feels she’s drifting away. Later on, “In London” presents itself as a glimpse into Ball’s private journal, opening with the calendar date (July 14th), followed by the sound of a pen scribbling on paper. She muses over a series of unrelated topics—her guilt around underproductivity, the swift passage of time, the inability to feel content with life even when she recognizes the many blessings it has brought her. “I feel, mostly…” she sings, “envy at times, special, unspecial, lazy, critical, entitled, lazy, and unloved.” She does not force herself to find a silver lining, nor end on a positive note. She simply lets herself have this moment of despondent mental wandering, concluding with an ambiguous question that hints at her band’s budding global success: “We freaking crossed an entire sea / […] / There has to be a reason for that, right?”
Between the golden highs of the Bangas’ music and the brooding lows of Ball’s heavier tracks lies the band’s sweet spot: a heartfelt celebration of the everyday. Ball has mastered the art of taking a minute, mundane detail—ants, scrambled eggs, Wal-Mart—and using it as a symbolic aid while she muses over bigger questions. In the song “Rollercoasters,” Ball compares the nausea-inducing, body-rattling, white-knuckle experience of a theme park ride to meeting God and ends with a philosophical meditation on why some of us find fear to be thrilling. (Adrenaline junkies, she concludes, seek thrills because they’ve never known the involuntary free-fall that comes with romantic love). In picking apart the things most of us never give a second thought to, Ball invites listeners to be more present, attentive, and appreciative. The music that accompanies her words only adds to her unique perspective, filling the space around her sentiments with rich, layered textures that further engage the listener.
Tank and the Bangas’ are marked by their talent and original flair, but what really gives them such a fresh vibe is their authenticity. Despite their colorful and groovy image, they aren’t afraid to get dark, deep, broody. They are excited and alive—then quiet and spacey. They allow themselves to move freely through moods, sounds, and ideas, thus making use of the full spectrum of human experience. Come see this one-of-a-kind group spread their light at Stephens Lake Park in Columbia, MO on Saturday, September 25th, 2021. Purchase your pass here: https://rootsnbluesfestival.com/tickets/.