It’s been a four-year wait for Bonobo’s new album, Migration, which came out January 13. Not one for the impatient. Thankfully, though, during that quite painful wait for new material, Bonobo (aka Simon Green) left us with plenty of magic to soundtrack our dreams with previous album, The North Borders.
It showed just how alive, warm and textured electronic music can be in hands as accomplished as Green’s. Those accomplished hands have been busy in the last four years. Green has called LA his home for the last few years now, and it’s been influential in shaping Migration; its creative energy and vibrant exchange of ideas has given his sound a whole new, genre-melding direction.
You don’t have to look any further than all the artwork for the album – snapshots of the many different Californian landscapes – to see how much the American state has had an impression on and inspiration to Green’s production. There’s an element of the unknown in the images, an outlandish beauty, something quite alien yet familiar.
It’s these notions that have encouraged Green to explore new musical concepts and stylings that he hasn’t previously woven into his foundations. It’s these notions, too, of outlandish beauty, of something alien yet familiar, that thrillingly drive his new material into an as-yet unheard, mesmerizing pulsey and dancey territory for the once jazzy downtempo producer.
If you’re familiar with Bonobo’s work, and you’ve spent time with each of his albums, you’ll have noticed a clear and distinct evolution in his sound through his six albums.
“Outlier”, “7th Sevens”, “No Reason”, or “Bambro Koyo Ganda” – all sprawling, grand, synth-featuring, four-to-the-floor productions that do more than just nod to electronic dance – would certainly not have found a home on his first two releases, Animal Magic and Dial M For Monkey. They’re purely instrumental, lush and layered, and outstanding examples of how dynamic and expressive chill-out can really be.
In the following two albums, Days To Come and Black Sands, Green introduced vocalists into the mix, and his compositions began displaying more space, most probably to accommodate those vocalists. More importantly, he began using live instrumentation as opposed to the sample-use in his early work, which is now the backbone of his work.
It’s then, on his fifth album, The North Borders, where Green’s flirtation with dancier rhythms began to blossom – “Cirrus” and “Ten Tigers” spring to mind – but he still hadn’t introduced as much space or underpinned things with as defined a pulse as exists now.
That pulse, exemplified by the four tracks mentioned earlier, beats through Migration and reaches practically euphoric levels of dance (the outro of “Outlier”? The back end of “7th Sevens”? The heavy drop of “Bambro Koyo Ganda”?). That’s not to say that there aren’t delicate, softer and tender moments on the album.
The title-track opener, “Grains”, “Second Sun”, and “Ontario” all fly that flag proudly, with a seemingly deliberate purpose on Green’s part to slow things down with these pieces – there’s no pulse here, none but the last of them even possess a beat.
Instead, there’s a focus back to exquisite texturing and layering, and these moments don’t only serve up the emotive beauty from early-era-Bonobo, but they act as downtempo valleys to the dancey peaks of the album, playing off each other to make for a striking and engaging experience.
At the beginning of the month Green said this in an interview with The Independent: “I felt like I had a genuine learning curve on this record, diving into aspects of production that I’d not really understood before”.
If it’s one thing Migration shows, it’s that Green now very much understands these aspects of production. He understands them very well. As his evolution continues, it’s exciting to think that there’s more to come from this maestro.
Green is in the middle of imprinting his unique tendencies on electronic dance, as he did with chill-out downtempo, and it’s making for an intriguing and special journey. His migration further into this new territory is like no other and one to watch. Bonobo’s Migration can be bought on iTunes here.
Words by Oli Kuscher