Brighton-based producer Simon Green, also known as Bonobo, has carved his own niche as a pioneer and exemplar for downtempo electronic music over thirteen years of quality output. His third album, Days to Come, released in 2006, was named the album of the year by Gilles Peterson’s listeners on Radio 1, and the 2010 follow-up Black Sands received equally positive reviews. Green’s music incorporates a wide use of samples, combined with complex basslines and instrumental arrangements, to create intricate and beautiful sonic soundscapes; expressive and dynamic, Bonobo is the perfect accompaniment to an introspective state of quiet contentment.
Bonobo’s fifth studio release, The North Borders, lives up to the expectation created by its predecessors, and surpasses previous achievements both in creativity and the overall unity of the album. Despite being the result of electronic production, the album has a natural feel, the diverse sounds of the piece are united in their organic, linear, progression; instrument builds upon instrument, rhythms repeat and are rephrased. The beat-driven ‘Cirrus’, the lead single from the album, is a fine example of Bonobo at his best. A house beat built to the tune of bells, chimes and an infectious bass is a frontispiece for Green’s raw creative talent. It is the collaborations with different vocalists, however, which provide some of the unexpected highlights of the album.
The standout track of the album has to be ‘Heaven for the Sinner’, which features Green’s most high-profile collaboration to date: Erykah Badu. Though it might be expected that Badu’s distinctive vocal style could overpower Green’s understated beats, the whispered words of the soulful songstress blend seamlessly with the wandering strings and percussion. Badu haunts the track, a spectre which is as much a part of the whole as the tranquil string accompaniment. The unknown talents of Szjerdene, who features on ‘Towers’ and ‘Transits, and Grey Reverend on ‘First Fires’ show that Green is just as able to produce a coherent and engaging collaboration without input from a Grammy Award-winner. ‘Towers’ is perhaps more vocally driven than other tracks, but the resonating bass and carefully woven musical progression ensures that the Bonobo’s spotlight is not shared too liberally.
All of the tracks on The North Borders are thoroughly listenable, and though there may be no real crescendo to the album, Green never gives us the reason, or the need, to expect one. Certainly ‘Antenna’ and ‘Cirrus’ skirt the edge of the dancefloor, but the feeling evoked by this album is more one of a peaceful walk home from the club (if such a thing exists) than the mood inside. The North Borders is not a grand leap away from Green’s previous work, but it is a progression. Synthetic, yet soulful, Bonobo has created an integrated and appealing album which stands out through its modesty.