Release Date: Apr 2, 2013
Record label: Ninja Tune
If Bonobo's 2010 album Black Sands were an actor, it would have been Ralph Fiennes—it was suave, refined and pretty posh compared to his cheekier sample-based albums. Si Green's third full-length also had a similar brooding intensity, where deep emotion came through in subtle string arrangements that were the musical equivalent of a trembling lip. In many ways it projected an old-fashioned English sophistication that, like Fiennes, was a hit across the Atlantic, where he relocated to record this follow-up.The North Borders also sounds quite English in a more modern sense.
BONOBO plays the Danforth Music Hall on April 18. Rating: NNNN Bonobo borrows his moniker from a species of chimpanzee, but his music is no monkey business. The 36-year-old UK musician and producer, whose real name is Simon Green, has been putting out records for over a decade on forward-thinking label Ninja Tune. For his fifth, Green blends downtempo electronic beats, gentle strings and occasional jazz instrumentation.
On his 2013 release The North Borders, British producer Simon Green (aka Bonobo) continues along the organic-meets-electronic path that his 2010 release Black Sands followed, but this walk takes place as it's turning to dusk, and there are varying degrees of mist and chilliness along the way. Opener "First Fires" with Grey Reverend (singer/songwriter L.D. Brown) sounds like it could be quite warm, but it's entirely autumn-minded sweater music that wistfully wonders what to do with "faded dreams" as Green allows bits of glitchy sunlight to shine through his cloudy synth construction.
The beauty of Bonobo’s material lies in its ability to translate emotion into a music score, regardless of instrument, tempo, lyrics, or influencing genre. After 12 years releasing albums, he has become rather adept at it, and while The North Borders shows no giant leap in technical accomplishment, it documents an organic evolution in sound, with deeper layers to discover and unwrap. When moonlighting as Bonobo, Simon Green – a British musician, producer and DJ also known as Barakas – sits sonically between labelmates Mr Scruff and Cinematic Orchestra.
Bringing everything from strings and woodwind to bear over his liquid hypnotic beats, Bonobo has stuck to his inimitable signature sound on his fifth LP. 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, he achieved his mainstream break with 2010’s sumptuous Black Sands, which reached the ears of the masses through multiple adverts and TV soundtracks.
Bonobo's slow, steady build may not be typical for an artist nowadays, but his longevity has given rise to a career spanning over a decade and five studio LPs, including 2010's highly celebrated Black Sands and his fifth and latest release, The North Borders. The latter could almost be seen as a continuation of the former — organic, spacious down-tempo laden with oscillating percussion and a movement of tracks that runs from those that scuff the dance floor to the quiet sought after a late night. The North Borders introduces a host of vocalists to accompany solid arrangements, like the soft, lithe air of Cornelia on closer "Pieces" — the clips, claps and snaps of percussion the perfect host.
A sense of déjà vu haunts The North Borders, UK producer Simon Green’s fifth studio album as Bonobo. It’s almost 15 years since he first appeared with the shy-footed but prescient “Terrapin”, which later appeared on his debut album Animal Magic and helped him find a name at the forefront of the downtempo electronica scene that bubbled up in the late 90s and early 2000s (a period when ambient pop albums like Air’s Moon Safari and Röyksopp’s Melody A.M. were scoring top 10 positions in the UK charts).
Bonobo’s fourth album The North Borders isn’t exactly a force of nature, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone. British-born, New York-based producer Simon Green has maintained an aesthetic as modest as his profile for over a decade. Never incognizant of trends, he’s also never held himself hostage to them, integrating the tendencies of producer-driven music into his melodic soundscaping seamlessly and without airs.
What are the enduring qualities of downtempo/chill music? An analytic approach necessitates this question, and it’s almost inescapable when listening to The North Borders. Simon Green (as Bonobo) presents the listener with an hour-long tapestry of lavishly crafted lounge beats that traverse an indulgent musical world — a world liberated, an existence free of concern, but still tied to the melancholic and the chilled. The overall lush nature of the record lends itself to an immediate listening experience — each track, one after the other, invites one into its particular zone and groove, in an immersive manner.
Vocals have always played an integral part in the work of Britain’s Simon Green, better known as Bonobo. Not necessarily to convey any message, as often the voices arrive from archived audio footage (2000’s “Dinosaurs”), but to add another dimension of humanity atop his organic jazz-electronica fusion. While the producer’s younger output embraced the DJ Shadow approach of sampling dusty vinyl dialogues, The North Borders now finds Green secure enough in his craft to command the talents of his guest vocalists and create emotional harmonics.
Simon Green has continuously graced the music world with silky synths as Bonobo. Today he dropped his fifth LP, titled The North Borders, where he chose to stick to what he does best and give us 13 songs combining elements of down-tempo jazz translated through various instruments and musical tools at his disposal, which includes the voices of Erykah Badu, Szjerdene, Cornelia and Grey Reverend.While 2010’s Black Sands had more of an overcast sound to it, The North Borders shows a sunnier side from the Brighton star. Upbeat from the start, “Emkay,” the second song off the album, is a jazzy tune that contains bells, chimes and a steadily bobbing beat.
Impressive fifth album from producer Simon Green, building on previous triumphs. Mike Diver 2013 Electronic artists bringing organic warmth to their recordings are not so few and far between as black-and-white mindsets about "real" music might believe. The days of computer-generated sounds being the stuff of sci-fi soundtracks and cult, collectors-item releases are, of course, long gone.
Bonobo is rightfully recognized as a UK auteur. Simon Green's written too many memorables to be called anything else, but there's something particularly prescient about The North Borders. Like a time capsule, it wanders through drum and bass, trip-hop, and downtempo, all smeared in the same misty, mountainous rhythms that made him famous. More than ever, Bonobo enlists the help of others, Erykah Badu wrapping her snaky coos through the muddy "Heaven for the Sinner," and Cornelia's chiming vox hovering over "Pieces." You have to wonder whether this is Bonobo appealing to the mass market he's engaged, building atmospheric pop that works better than his rumbles and snorts in a live setting.