Tank & the Bangas embrace connection and the wacky side of isolation on Friend Goals | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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Tank & the Bangas embrace connection and the wacky side of isolation on Friend Goals

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When New Orleans band Tank & the Bangas invited their friends and family to help them cover Hal David and Burt Bacharach’s pop classic “What the World Needs Now Is Love” in January, they embraced the song’s earnest call for kindness, sprinkled in spoken word urging people to come together in peace, and wrapped up with an a cappella solo from Harmony Ball (the young niece of lead singer Tarriona “Tank” Ball), whose childlike sincerity could stir up hope in the bleakest pessimist. In June, the group released that single in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and the Equal Justice Initiative, and on their new six-track EP, Friend Goals (Verve Forecast), they echo the song’s longing for connection and authenticity. Though the band wrote most of the material on Friend Goals separately and collaborated via Zoom before recording in various home studios, it’s not the lo-fi affair you might expect from such a setup. Since forming in 2011, Tank & the Bangas (the current core lineup is Ball, saxophonist and flutist Albert Allenback, drummer Joshua Johnson, and keyboardist Norman Spence) have combined funk, neosoul, R&B, and more, and on Friend Goals they continue to serve up a stew of styles and vibes. Ball has a broad range as a singer too: earlier this year she collaborated with Fantastic Negrito on his album Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? and released acoustic covers of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Norah Jones’s “Don’t Know Why,” and on the new EP she alternates between singing in her deep, velvety alto and rapping that draws on her background in slam poetry (sometimes she even lets out a joyous whoop). The jazzy, danceable “Fluff,” which features rapper Duckwrth, feels like a cool breeze and evokes early-80s Quincy Jones with its keys, horns, and bass line. The flute intro to “Self Care” leads the way into the wacky world of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic; Ball joins several guests (longtime contributor Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph, R&B singer Jaime Woods, and rapper Orleans Big) to address how prolonged self-quarantine can test anyone’s mental health but also provide time for people to focus on themselves. “Mr. Insta,” a collaboration with Alabama-born rapper Chika, examines the duality of social media for artists who can harness their platforms to grow their fan bases but may struggle with tying their self-worth to the number of likes on a post. And on the laid-back title track, which features New Orleans rapper and singer Pell, Ball expresses the human need for companionship: “Everybody want somebody they can kick it with. . . . Trust me, everybody need a good friend.” In a time of necessary and prolonged isolation, that sentiment rings especially true.   v

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