Simon Green aka Bonobo has been slaving behind the dials for sometime now. There has been no overnight stardom or one tune which catapulted him into the world’s consciousness, his success has come through good honest graft, sculpting his sound to perfection whilst gathering admirers along the way.
It was way back in the Autumn of 1999 when Bonobo released his first record, the sun drenched, George Harrison inspired ‘Terrapin‘ on Tru Thoughts. Since that breakthrough track, Bonobo has released four albums of increasingly sophisticated electronic soundscapes, with 2010s Black Sands being the high water mark for his creativity.
So then, with the release of his hotly anticipated fifth studio offering The North Borders, Green hopes to improve yet again on his already impressive musical formula. ‘The North Borders’ is another evolution for Bonobo, this album is most definitely not Black Sands: Part 2, opting for an ethereal, and yet, at the same time organic sound. The opening track First Fires lays down the template for the rest of the album, utilizing mountain sized atmospherics together with beautiful and somewhat whimsical strings serving as a mattress for Grey Reverend’s haunting vocal. This ‘wide open’ feel continues with Emkay. Stuttering beats and down tuned vocals, swirl and dance with sensual strings while intergalactic synths announce their presence in the background. Bonobo, again creating a wall of sound that washes over the listener transporting them to wide open plains and deep clear rivers.
Lead single, Cirrus brings to mind Four Tet, with it’s slow building rhythms mixing glockenspiel, heavy bass and steam engine drums to gently beckon us to the dance floor. A thoroughly satisfying sound, combining live instruments with razor sharp and crystal clear electronics.
Eryka Badu seems to be the voice of the experimental electronica scene at the moment, making an appearance here after her wonderful cameo on Flying Lotus’ See Thru To U. Heaven For The Sinner is quite Flying Lotus-like in construction, a distorted and intoxicating mixture, combining Badu’s slightly twisted vocals with 8-bit stabs and sweetly plucked harps. Although Bonobo can weave beautiful and elaborate electronic soundscapes he can also make a dance floor move too.
Sapphire‘s beat struts up and down the catwalk of the main melody, while jewel like synths sparkle and gleam in the light of the shimmering harps, creating a delicate yet sexy piece of music with the slightest hint of melancholy. Jet‘s bass shudders on the brink of distortion whilst the clicking, snapping percussion drives the tune on, until the synths, arriving in the last quarter, add a sense of cinematic wonder building to a crescendo before slowly ebbing away.
The tempo is raised up a notch, once Know You bursts into life, this alongside Antenna and 10 Tigers marks the beginning of The North Borders trilogy of dance floor friendly cuts. The latter of these, is one of the stand out tracks on the record. Scatter shot rhythms, constantly changing electronic stabs and the odd vocoder sample, give 10 Tigers a somewhat technological feel which sounds almost industrial compared to the natural and organic beauty of the rest of the album.
British born singer Szjerdene appears twice on the album, firstly on the SBTRKT inspired Towers and then on Transits, materializing through a sonic haze to claim the track with an awe inspiring vocal. Bonobo has made a truly great choice in using the young 25 year old and she seems destined for great things.
The final track Pieces closes the album in style, acting as an epilogue of sadness to The North Borders tale of outstanding beauty and contentment.
Bonobo has truly excelled himself here, creating an album which seamlessly flows onwards from the delightful Black Sands. Electronic music’s nay sayers who see the genre as cold and soulless would do well to sit down and experience The North Borders, they may just find their own souls enriched by its content.