Entertainment, Music

Bonobo Finds Identity in Soundscapes


British producer drives downtempo into the mainstream through eccentric motifs, disparate cultural elements, and straightforward house beats

Album Review: Electronic Music

Bonobo Migration (Ninja Tune)

British Producer Simon Green (Bonobo) has already established himself as an electronic music heavyweight since the release of his first album, Animal Magic, back in 2000 under both Tru Thoughts and Ninja Tune.  He has since then become a mainstay at the latter and is now recognized as a champion of downtempo and experimental music.  Green’s latest venture, Migration, brings his musical prowess to the forefront of the mainstream through his juxtaposition of familiar dance beats and unique, culturally disparate elements that captivate listeners and deliver an ethereal aesthetic.  It is here in Migration that Green challenges the sophistication of his production with both sample-based music and actual instrumentation that dominate his motifs and suggest an introspective journey.

Green envelops his audience within a plethora of musical motifs that steadily fill the soundscape.  In the record’s self-titled opening track “Migration”, listeners are treated to simple melodic ideas via piano and other instrumental samples that are slowly expounded upon to create a dense texture: we begin to hear idea after idea in slow succession.  The Bonobo sound in actuality has always consisted of these lush, slowly constructed, polyphonic sample-based textures; however, seasoned listeners will take notice of Green’s finesse in production and his attempts to introduce his work to mainstream audiences through dance.  This is unmistakably evident during the colossal, 8-minute-long track “Outlier”, which captivates listeners with the familiar progressive build and serves to transcend the average Bonobo piece through its incorporation of infectious dance beats via Jupiter 8.

Green also fosters these elements with his continued tradition of occasionally tapping into vocal collaborations.  Tracks such as “Break Apart” and “No Reason” feature the vocal talents of Rhye and Nick Murphy (FKA Chet Faker) respectively and are easily accessible as pop songs.  However, it is his collaboration with Moroccan group Innov Gnawa on “Bambro Koyo Ganda” that ascends as the most captivating downtempo/dance hybrid.  The latter incorporates the distinctive, native sounds of Innov Gnawa to create a piece that not only pays homage to Moroccan cultural traditions, but also makes them accessible to Western audiences through excessive emphasis of the downbeat and typical “clap” effects native to electronic dance music.   These dance beats and house rhythms are clearly not an entirely new front for Green; however, they draw in audiences who otherwise may not have given attention to the British producer.

The album in its entirety is not exclusively about music though.  Migration stands out as a work that not only captures the magnificence of the Bonobo sound, but one that also serves as a musical gateway into Green’s own perspective.  The term migration in particular evokes a concept that herein lies in itself: we tend to think of things, or people, moving from one area to another.  This theme carries throughout the record and invites listeners to reflect upon their own life’s journeys.  Songs such as “Break Apart” feature lyrics that depict changes in both everyday life and within a person’s personality.  The aforementioned tune in particular engages the audience in melancholic reflection as singer Rhye recalls the tragedy of growing apart from a former loved one.

I should’ve heard your fear. So, it’s on me, so, it’s on
I should’ve heard your needs
So, it’s on, so, it’s on, so, it’s on – Break Apart, Bonobo ft. Rhye

Green, as a touring musician and producer, has visited a vast array of towns and cities across the globe and has been exposed to a plethora of world cultures and individuals prior to settling in Los Angeles.  The experiences that he has partaken in unmistakably have influenced the soundscapes that he has created throughout his career.  Subsequently, the effects of these cultural elements are unmistakably evident within the themes and rhythmic variations that are standard within the Bonobo formula; however, despite these feats, Migration is hindered only by the sheer familiarity of its tracks.

Avid Bonobo listeners will be able to recognize Green’s work almost instantaneously, which in this case is both good and bad.  From a promotional perspective, perhaps it is safe to presume that Green wants to create a sort of familiarity to announce his presence and establish his brand (Bonobo); however, in doing so listeners can become jaded and tired of the familiarity.  So how do you maintain a brand while challenging yourself to adapt to the constantly changing needs of your audience?  It is far from obvious, though the beauty of creativity and musical taste lies in its ability to be challenged.  Perhaps Green’s step into the realm of dance music is a start: he needs to keep taking risks.

The Babble:

Migration is a plethora of sounds and mixture of culturally disparate elements that seamlessly blend together in harmonic tranquility.  Each brooding arpeggiation, hypnotic beat, and foreign timbre play equal roles in establishing Green’s identity, though at times it becomes too familiar.

7.8 GOOD – Bonobo offers lush soundscapes that are enticing, familiar, and yet different enough to captivate audiences.  To say that this is merely an extension of his past recordings is farce.


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