Bringing everything from strings and woodwind to bear over his liquid hypnotic beats, with his fifth LP Bonobo has stuck to his inimitable signature sound. Electronic, but overwhelmingly naturalistic, the listening experience is akin to slowly regain consciousness in a sun-drenched forest; walking around in dazed contentment before stumbling into the E’d up crowd of a gentle, isolated rave.
Though Simon Green, the man behind the monkey-namesake, has been putting out albums of all-encompassing cinematic orchestration since 1999, achieving his mainstream break with 2010’s sumptuous Black Sands, which reached the ears of the masses through multiple adverts and TV soundtracks. Rather than turning his back on his most famous creation, with his latest release Bonobo has built on the heritage of Black Sands, continuing to use organic sonic textures, complex, rolling beats and full, rich production to conjure calm grooves and the chillest, most sedate drops in the business – though he has largely stayed away from the global influences that resonated throughout his last release.
As ever, Bonobo walks the tightrope between downtempo, IDM and pseudo-classical, carefully alternating between vocal and instrumental tracks, leaving his dominant grooves space to come to the fore. From ‘Heaven for the Sinner’, the album’s danciest track with a disjointed two-step under a yearning Ery vocal, rather reminiscent of a super-slowed SBTRKT track, to the classical ‘Cirrus’, which creates a Peter and the Wolf-style challenge in identifying the variety of instruments present; Green holds your attention throughout, flexing his emotional control as the listener plunges from genre to genre, and emotion to emotion.
Inevitably, it is often Bonobo’s carefully woven beats which steal the spotlight. The songs are mostly linear constructions, developing piece by piece with the addition of each new element and slowly gaining both complexity and momentum as basslines, percussion, woodwind, or strings join the jam one by one. Then, the process reverses, and the groove’s constituent parts are laid bare, before reassembling once more. On ‘Jets’, an almost RnB beat vibes under the many layers, creating an instrumental homage to Motown, but Green is, of course, quite happy to go in the opposite direction as well, as on the disorientating ‘Antenna’, where the skitch percussion and vibrato loops create a dreamlike, meditative sense of joy. Elsewhere, the loose hi-hats and slow synths of ‘Transits’ become the hypnotist’s voice, counting upwards and slowing bringing you back to reality; readying you to open your eyes and face the world once more.
Overall, though on first impression it might be dismissed as muzak or mere background music for monging stoners, Green’s crafted production and restrained understatements are both distinctive and totally immersive. The North Borders is as ambitious a record as its predecessor, and it’s just as successful. Due to Bonobo’s diverse sound, uniting pulse, and sheer warmth, this is a record that will work in many situations – whether as the background for a dinner party or as the soundtrack for a grim dawn comedown – and in most music collections.