Tank and the Bangas: Red Balloon (Verve Forecast) | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Tank and the Bangas

Red Balloon

Verve Forecast

May 17, 2022 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

“Minimalism” is not a word typically associated with New Orleans. Just the city’s name evokes color and heat, brassy music playing from every street corner. From music to food to funerals, New Orleans does it big. So it’s no surprise that when a NOLA-bred group breaks into public consciousness, they go all in. Tank and the Bangas exploded in a burst of color when they submitted to the 2017 Tiny Desk Contest—even before they won, they were an immediate favorite.

Diving into a Tank and the Bangas album is a bit like opening a treasure chest, its contents unknown but glittering with promise. There is never just one shade of gemstone either; variety abounds, and if there’s one word for Tank and the Bangas, it’s “maximalist.” The band’s major label debut, Green Balloon, was released to critical praise in 2019. The album is joyful and charismatic, but at 17 songs and over an hour long, the album’s density can be intimidating. Their new record, Red Balloon, offers a tighter, more reigned in showcase of the band’s magnetic style.

Musically, Red Balloon covers largely familiar ground for Tank and the Bangas. Combining the soulful jazz and funk of their hometown with hip hop and pop, Red Balloon is kaleidoscopic in sound. Tarriona “Tank” Ball’s wildly expressive voice weaves through heavy hip-hop beats and disco-funk with equal grace, while her bandmates—Albert Allenback (alto saxophone, flute), Norman Spence II (bass, keyboards), and Joshua Johnson (drums)—knit a complex musical landscape beneath her.

Lyrically, however, Red Balloon explores new territory. Created in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, exhaustion and anxiety are threaded through the often incongruously joyous instrumentation and arranging. But rather than confuse or bog down the album’s atmosphere, Ball’s poignant lyrical acuity bolsters it. The album’s opening track (not including an intro featuring Wayne Brady), the chirpy “Mr. Bluebell,” is an ode to doom-scrolling on Twitter—“And the phone is a gateway to hell,” Ball sing-songs at the end of verse one. It is both comical and chilling. In its follow-up, “Anxiety,” Ball imagines herself in a “padded room with the white walls.” But much like the pandemic itself, moments of light shine through the cracks. Ball sings odes to her community on “Black Folk” and “Stolen Fruit,” and an especially sweet track is “Café Du Monde,” a love letter to the infamous New Orleans cafe and the strange joy of spending the day by yourself.

What ultimately makes Red Balloon most special is the intensely collaborative spirit that the band possesses. Even though the official roster only boasts four members, they often tour with other musicians and friends. Red Balloon features artists like Trombone Shorty, Lalah Hathaway, Jacob Collier, and more, and it’s this atmosphere of welcoming invitation that makes you want to settle right in and let their easy sound wash over you. While Red Balloon might not be breaking new ground, it offers comfort and solidarity—and in the summer of 2022, more than two years since the world shut down, this might be most necessary of all. (www.tankandthebangas.com)

Author rating: 7/10

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