Album Review of Migration by Bonobo.
Release Date: Jan 13, 2017
Record label: Ninja Tune
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock
Simon Green, aka Bonobo, has delivered his sixth album Migration and at the same time also delivered a lesson in electronic music. Previous album The North Borders went top 30 in the UK, and was toured across 30 countries on four continents to a total audience of around 2 million people; Migration is the acid test for electronic music in 2017, and sets a standard that will be undeniably difficult to match, let alone beat. This album explores themes of family, dislocation, travel; the very textures of human existence.
Now fully established in the electronic musical firmament, Simon Green has his sights set on greater things. With five well-received albums already under his belt, the man otherwise known as Bonobo makes a notable step up in ambition with Migration, an album described by his record company as “an attempt to capture the very textures of human existence in his work”. Green has always gone about this work in a relatively humble way.
It might not be the revolution the music world is pining for, but streaming services have recently reported an explosion in the popularity of ambient world electronica. Good timing for the doyen of percussive atmospherics, Simon Green, who returns with his sixth album. Inspired by his experiences as a nomadic musician rather than global issues surrounding migration, the record shares the same melancholic intensity of Jon Hopkins’ Immunity, but its head remains in the clouds rather than the club.
From the downtempo days of Animal Magic to the more club-ready fare of The North Borders, Bonobo has always made truly beautiful music. He often paints an elegant scene with foreign elements — gamelan here, Afrobeat there, chants and claps peppered throughout. So, it's no surprise then that his latest offering is another fine blend of beauty and culture.Recorded mostly on the road amidst a jam-packed tour, Migration is perhaps even more well-travelled than its predecessors.
Beginning with Simon Green’s debut under the Bonobo moniker, 2000’s Animal Magic, right through to his latest, the new Migration, his calling has been clear: he’s made it his mission to create hazy, flowing music that’s equal parts subtle and rich, with an organic feel that is the result of layering live instrumentation over his samples and electronics. Ever since, he’s been reaching for an idealized version of that template, towards a thoughtful style that both soothes and resonates. His path towards that rarefied goal, however, hasn’t exactly been a straight line.
It’s been a long road for Simon Green, aka Bonobo, since his 2000 debut Animal Magic. Back then, he was seeking a bridge between downtempo electronica and the more playful and experimental artists on his soon-to-be-label home Ninja Tune; he came off as a bit too fuzzy for the former and not quite adventurous enough for the latter. Over the years, Green has honed his craft, shedding his early Amon Tobin Lite image and taking downtempo more seriously as a genre.
Bonobo’s music exudes both skill and caution in equal parts. Simon Green has upped the dance component slightly to his music over the years since his downtempo debut Animal Magic was released in 2000, trafficking more heavily in four-on-the-floor beats without ever cresting entirely into bangers. His music never approaches anything remotely resembling bombast, but neither does it push the boundaries of minimalism; he is careful, it would seem, not to try the listener’s patience too much, but also wary of discarding restraint completely.
Six albums in, Bonobo – aka Simon Green – is in a very different position both geographically and in relation to his career than he was in the beginning. His initial output saw him swiftly cast as a ‘down tempo pioneer.’ But it was the release of Black Sands that opened him up to a wider audience and expanded his sound from jazzy, laid-back hip hop pieces to incorporate more vocals, afrobeat and Middle Eastern influences. His star further rose with the release of The North Borders, which he toured extensively with a live band.
Following the release of his most successful album to date, 2013's The North Borders, as well as an even more triumphant world tour, British producer Bonobo (Simon Green) returned in 2017 with his sixth proper studio full-length, Migration. The album was partially inspired by his touring experiences, but also by the death of a relative. Green's family is spread out across the world, and they all reconvened in Brighton, England for the funeral.
If Bonobo wasn’t already among the top order of electronic artists upon the release of ‘The North Borders’ in 2013, the response and subsequent journey of that record means that now – returning with ‘Migration’, Simon Green’s sixth album under the moniker – he most certainly is. He racked up 175 shows across 30 countries in touring ‘The North Borders’, bowing out with a triumphant showcasing at London’s Alexandra Palace. It’s a live show that captures the imagination of fans from across a broad musical spectrum, bringing to life his compositions in a way that’s uplifting, elegant and technically proficient.
On this sixth album, Brighton boy Simon Green, now based in LA, finds a theme perfect for his melancholic downtempo electronica: travel, diaspora and belonging. Migration is a personal global journey, informed by a recent bereavement; found sounds from across continents mingle with horns, harp, guitar and piano, bolstered by beats ranging from two-step to cavernous trip-hop. New York–based Moroccan band Innov Gnawa contribute vocals to Bambro Koyo Ganda, with its clubby, hypnotic drive, while on Kerala, a sample of US R&B singer Brandy is abstracted beyond language, and Pete Seeger becomes a deep, rich texture on Grains.
Since his downtempo heyday in the early 2000s, Simon Green, AKA Bonobo, has grown from a trip-hop follower into a leader of smoky, twilit house music. His colourful and wide-ranging DJ sets have made him a festival favourite (catch him at sunset for the full effect). His productions, plush with horn and string arrangements and often accompanied by vocals, have earned him a regular place on the playlists of many electronic music fans.Migration is Green's sixth album.
The evolution of Simon Green’s Bonobo project has been a joy to observe. Each record has always sounded both distinct and distinctly Bonobo; there’s a clear progression in craft, becoming more sophisticated, polished, and also more commercially popular, as Green’s fanbase has grown in bedrooms, festivals and dancefloors around the world. It's quite the journey: from the dusty, sample-led instrumentals of Animal Magic and Dial M for Monkey; a few steps out of the lounge with vocalists Bajka and Fink on Days to Come; Black Sands’ leap into more ambitious electronic waters; followed by North Borders’ shift to the dancefloor back in 2013.