“Egomaniac” Showcases KONGOS’ Unique, Ambitious, Engaging Sound; Album Review

KONGOS [Take It From Me Press Shot | Epic Records]

KONGOS’ “Egomaniac” proves that ambition is not the enemy of authenticity.  It confirms that complexity is not the opposite of clarity.  It reveals that diversity is not the antithesis of consistency.

KONGOS Egomaniac Cover
Egomaniac Album Cover

The band’s new album is daring, unpredictable and downright odd.  Its songs are comprised of layers upon layers of distinct sounds and textures, with influences ranging from roots to modern rock to pop to dance.  Even the vocals – owing in part to their dynamic talent and in part to the fact that the Kongos brothers share lead vocal duties – vary from song to song (and sometimes within the same song).

Listeners will undoubtedly be impressed by the degree of difficulty and astonished by the intensity of the effort.

Most bands would welcome that sort of glowing praise with open arms.  KONGOS, however, is deserving of a far more exemplary reaction.

“Egomaniac” is not simply an exercise in technique.  It is a platform for communicating the band’s unique identity and voice.  It is about being true even more than it is about standing out.

The music may be complicated, but it is never without a clear purpose.  KONGOS has a taut artistic vision for this album and (successfully) attempts to communicate that vision with every note.

The sounds may be diverse, but the album is thoroughly cohesive.  Whether exploring modern blues rock on “I Don’t Mind,” prog on “Autocorrect” or even moody dance pop on “Look At Me,” KONGOS always sounds like the same band.  Attempting to situate the entire album within a specific, narrow genre is a futile exercise.  The only appropriate way to describe the album is “KONGOS.”

“Egomaniac” reflects a band that derives ambition from need rather than vanity.  The album sounds the way it does – and explores as many textures, concepts and genres as it does – because that is the only way KONGOS could communicate its unique voice.  The band members will doubtfully put up a fight if you want to rave about the intricacy of the production and skill of the instrumentals, but their truest hope is clearly that you walk away with a clearer understanding of who they are as artists.  They want you to not only instantly recognize their sound but immediately understand the motivation for the sound.  They want to be a band you “get” rather than a band you simply like.

The confident, self-aware musicality on “Egomaniac” is what makes the album better than the band’s (eventual breakthrough) 2012 album “Lunatic.”  A strong album in its own right – and one responsible for KONGOS’ fantastic, genre-bending breakthrough single “Come With Me Now” – it nonetheless gave room to a more cynical interpretation of ambition and experimental.

“Lunatic” was both good musically and sincere emotionally, but it occasionally lacked in cohesion and vision.  The term “experimental” was very fitting, as the band seemed to be exploring its unique capabilities and proclivities rather than confidently and consistently leveraging them.  There is a laudable honesty to that approach, but there is obviously more resonance to be had now that the band has found its voice and put the puzzle pieces together.

Tracking Excellence

“Egomaniac” is in its best light when viewed as a collective work, as a big picture approach is required to truly appreciate its sonic and thematic consistency and cohesion.

But while the sum may be greater than the parts, the parts are still pretty strong.

Lead single “Take It From Me” features much of the energy and sensibility that powered the aforementioned “Come With Me Now,” but it also demonstrates admirable restraint.  Instead of doubling down on the mainstream accessibility of the breakthrough hit – and thus opening the band up to claims of “selling out” – the quirkier song finds KONGOS “buying in.”  It is a KONGOS song proud to be a KONGOS song rather than a hollow, money-hungry effort to further expand the band’s reach.

Kongos [LNSM - NBC]
Kongos [LNSM – NBC]
If there is a negative to the song, it is that it undersells the complexity and creativity found on some of the album’s standout tracks.

There’s a workplace expression, “I taught him everything he knows, but not everything I know.”  “Take It From Me” is absolutely reflective of what KONGOS does and says, but it is not reflective of all KONGOS can do and all KONGOS has to say.

Songs like “Birds Do It,” “Look At Me,” and instant gratification track “I Don’t Mind” are closer to telling that complete story.  The superb accordion and detailed production on “Birds Do It” elevate a fun, yet admittedly silly lyrical premise into an elite piece of music.  With its alt-pop construct, hipster party vibe, and slick guitar accents, “Look At Me” bears no superficial sonic resemblance to KONGOS’ best-known singles.  Yet in a testament to the band’s unparalleled sense of self, it somehow feels stunning familiar.  It is a KONGOS song first and a “cool” track second.  An infectious chorus, intoxicating guitar-and-accordion-fused riff and unpredictable vocal structure on the verses turn “I Don’t Mind” into the album’s best track.  The fantastic song manages to take the best instrumental aspects of “Lunatic” and update them with the clearer, more deliberate, more consistent production vibe found throughout the new album.

They are not the only compelling, memorable songs on “Egomaniac.”

“Autocorrect” sounds like a cross between Muse’s theatrical tracks and Flight Of The Conchords’ “Robots.”  While it might seem problematic to compare a supposedly unique band to other modern acts, take a second to think about the comparison:  a cross between Muse and Flight Of The Conchords.  That statement is nothing if not confirmation that KONGOS has created something delightfully bizarre.

It simultaneously haunting and energizing.  It is relaxed and rousing.  “Repeat After Me” is proof that contrasting vibes and sounds may actually be the best way to present a unified, unique message.  The song initially creates a clash between the deep, slick, almost spoken-word verse vocals with background chanting.  The chanting then moves into the forefront of the engaging chorus, resulting in an utterly blissful sonic experience.  The layering in the song’s climax is as enrapturing as you’ll find in the broad “rock” sector.

Album closer “If You Could” bears resemblance to the road trip rock of day’s past but features a true KONGOS twist in terms of the instrumentation and vocal filter.  The end result is a song that feels faithful to the band and album without sacrificing the loose, freeing essence of its classic rock framework.

You may think the passionate vocals are the highlight of “Hey You, Yeah You,” but wait until you truly listen to the layered production as it builds.  “Underground” adds an urgent, hard rock sensibility to what can almost be described as a loungey framework.  The end result is stellar.

“2 In The Morning” effectively fills the “ballad” role.  Let that classification inform you of the song’s more vulnerable, enthralling form of emotion.  Do not let it suggest a boring, by-the-numbers “slow song.”

“Where I Belong” fits more cleanly into the modern rock mold, but that should not suggest it is without the KONGOS’ identity.  Its unorthodox build and layered are clearly the product of this band’s creative vision.

“The World I Would” is one of the album’s more straightforward, linear compositions, but that does not make it any less effective.  Its lyrics, meanwhile, play a big role in establishing the album’s “self-centered stream of consciousness” theme.

“I Want It Free” is effectively an alternative, grittier version of “Come With Me Now.”  The riff is essentially the same, but the front vocal melody is less energetic, soaring, and radio-friendly.  It is the weakest track on the album, but it still fits reasonably well into the “Egomaniac” set.  It is definitely not “bad.”

Imperfect Perfection

Does effort come with a cost?

The careful, deliberate construct is why “Egomaniac” is both technically impressive and artistically effective.  Reflective of the band’s tireless effort and incredible self-awareness, “Egomaniac” perfectly communicates what KONGOS intended to communicate.

Reason for praise, that precision may also serve as fuel for critics.

Certain fans, particularly those raised on rock, possess a passion for the raw, rugged, and unrefined.  Seeing detail as the enemy of “feel,” they may chide “Egomaniac” as too calculated for the modern rock realm.

Superficially, there is some merit to the concern.  While “Egomaniac” certainly features gritty sounds and textures, the final product is very intricate and polished.  From a composition and production standpoint, it carries as much likeness to cutting-edge pop as it does old school, roots rock.

An honest listen, however, should mitigate any concerns about a lack of soul or honesty.  It may be a very modern, ambitious exercise in production, but it is never without authenticity.  Again, this is an album that sounds the way it does out of artistic and emotional necessity rather than out of a desire to win points for technique.

Celebrating the album’s artistic vision does not, however, strip one of his ability to question the specific realization of that vision.  While the final product is great – an honest, engaging, unique, enjoyable catalog of music – it could have been even better.  The “Egomaniac” instrumentals are fantastic, whether in the form of impressive riffs, pulsing beats or sonic accents, but the album is lacking in terms of legitimate “solos.”  It is not that KONGOS erred or undermined its vision by not incorporating broader assortments of guitar, accordion and drum solos, but doing so may have resulted in an even stronger album.

The album is also light on soaring, high-energy choruses.  Again, it is not that the artistic construct and vision necessitated them – this album is not the band’s effort to create as many sing-along, radio-friendly tunes as possible – but it is hard to dispute the fact that bigger (yet tastefully composed) choruses could have made the album even better.  Proof?  “I Don’t Mind,” which arguably has the best chorus, is probably the most memorable track on the album.

Still, “Egomaniac” has far too much going for it to dwell on the few things it lacks.  The few weaknesses may prevent the album from racking up five-star reviews, but they will not prevent the album from resonating with listeners.

They do not at all derail the band’s effort to create an honest, exciting, unique collection of music that will make fans out of new KONGOS listeners and diehards out of existing supporters.

Egomaniac will be available on June 10.


  1. Take It From Me
  2. The World Would Run Better
  3. I Want It Free
  4. Underground
  5. Autocorrect
  6. Where I Belong
  7. Birds Do It
  8. 2 In The Morning
  9. Look At Me
  10. I Don’t Mind
  11. Hey You, Yeah You
  12. Repeat After Me
  13. If You Could


Written by Brian Cantor

Brian Cantor is the editor-in-chief for Headline Planet. He has been a leading reporter in the music, movie, television and sporting spaces since 2002.

Brian's reporting has been cited by major websites like BuzzFeed, Billboard, the New Yorker and The Fader -- and shared by celebrities like Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj.

Contact Brian at brian.cantor[at]


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