Bonobo, also known as DJ and producer Simon Green, is back with the highly anticipated follow-up to his 2009 release Live at Koko with a new record, Black Sands. With already an impressive body of work with the full-lengths Animal Magic, Dial ‘M’ For Monkey, Days to Come, in addition to countless EPs and single releases (my personal favorite being the Scuba EP), Simon Green has kept busy by growing and innovating beyond his previous work of years past. His compositional technique, rivaling some of the work put out by DJ Shadow (see Endtroducing), labelmates Amon Tobin and Blockhead (see Music By Cavelight), Madlib, and Guillermo Scott-Herren (also known as Prefuse 73) illustrates a nuanced meeting point for the inspired fusing of Green’s varied melodious interests. Bonobo is a medley of jazz, funk, soul, electronic, pop, hip-hop, trip-hop, drum and bass, lounge, classical, and so on. In many ways, it is hard to define his style because the music contains intricate and delicately arranged components. Moreover, Bonobo is complex and rather esoteric and his sonic flavors always unveil a new aspect of the composition For this precise reason, Bonobo’s work is simultaneously timeless and a new expression; it is beyond the realm of the neo-classical and developed through elaborate sound assembly to create music of a serene character. His downtempo and contemplative rhythms hark back to the ’90s sounds of Brian Eno, Four Tet (see 2003′s Rounds), Boards of Canada (Music Has the Right to Children) and DJ Krush who placed great importance on the construction of music as well as the ambiance they help form; the music of these great contemporary composers was based on their vision to see both the effect and affect of their musical works.
Bonobo’s current work is markedly different from the work on Days to Come. The style of Days to Come and Dial ‘M’ For Monkey were extremely effective and captivating due to the accessible and idiosyncratic feel of the various tracks. They showcased the breadth of Simon Green’s musical knowledge by combining diverse instruments and never sounding dissonant. In various ways, Black Sands, strays from this formula and addresses the listener by making him feel strange from the get-go—in other words, the album feels like an untraditional Bonobo album. However, Green returns to his trusted style further into the release. The opener “Kiara Prelude,” a beautiful and unadorned movement, sets the trope to be repeated throughout the following “Kiara,” a heavy-beat and electronic mixture of instrumental nutrition. Although there is an abrupt beat-per-minute change in the Prelude when entering into “Kiara” itself, the music clues us in by predicting the oncoming rise in tension. The chords tighten towards the end of the Prelude which close to a zero-point of nothingness between tracks only to intensify and reveal the more traditional and headnodding world of “Kiara” and Black Sands as a whole. For all of its “excessive minimalism,” “Kiara” is rather complex, with only its handful of layers punctuated by vocal samples creating the multi-pronged aesthetic attributed to the magic of the Bonobo sound. The tracks are connected to each other through subtle shared aesthetics; they also function as self-contained capsules that are able to generate meaning of their own.
Bonobo’s work inhabits, more generally, the space between my love, hip-hop, and lounge. This makes Simon Green’s work something that can serve as a soundscape for one’s daily activity; a soundtrack for life if you will, but perhaps more significantly as a contemplative and reflective musical surface targeted at a new, different and untraditional type of listener. Simon Green’s work has progressed from being largely sample-based production to increasingly moving toward a live-instrument based arrangement style. Being the primary instrumentalist, Green is a multi-talented artist whose abilities, not only knowledge, traverse the world beyond those envisioned by the landscapes alluded to in Black Sands. The album proves the maturation and shifting interests of Simon Green and his work as Bonobo. From always thinking of Simon Green as a downtempo artist in the vein of Massive Attack (Mezzanine) Helios, Kruder & Dorfmeister (more Kruder’s Peace Orchestra than Dorfmeister’s Tosca), sprinkled with a bit of Thievery Corporation and Nightmares On Wax in his approach, Green shows a far-reaching versatility. He is now approaching a different kind of sonic acuity, one that goes beyond the structure of the music itself into a heaven of organic and cleverly oblique harmonies.
Noteworthy is the third cut from Black Sands, “Kong,” which is wholly different from its preceding tracks. Where “Kiara” used a dominant them of classical instrumentation, “Kong” works with an imprecise yet beautiful set of uncommon wind instruments, strings, sprinkled with a mid-type/sub-bass drum pattern, ubiquitous and yet never apprehensive. This review is, however, incomplete without a mention of vocalist Andreya Triana. Her impressive range of voice in addition to her warm and smooth presence introduces a glossy feel to the tracks she’s featured on, giving primacy to her voice and adding further texture to Bonobo’s compositions. Songs like the single, “The Keeper,” “Eyesdown,” and “Wonder When” exemplify this effortless dynamism. Triana’s heavyweight(less) voice envelops the listener and takes them on a journey through the landscape of Bonobo’s Black Sands. She becomes the guide to accessing the secrets of this world, a pleasurable marriage of the song and vocals, delightfully complementing each other at every drum kick. Bonobo, who has an affinity for strong female vocalists, such as Bajka featured on Days to Come, carefully places Andreya Triana as an addition to, never in opposition or diametric to the song’s unfolding. Andreya is a positive aspect to Green’s music, a never-distracting enhancer.
Black Sands is an inventive and important step in Bonobo’s already accomplished career. The strength of his work lies in his intelligible compositional technique, which alludes to the heyday of ’90s meditative downbeat. Black Sands incorporates styles from all over the world–a Spanish guitar, Middle Eastern strings, and Ethiopian tribal jazz, among a multitude of other obscure and distinctive sounds. The complexity of creating Black Sands only hints at the amount of thought and labor that goes into the production of this sort of work. Still, Simon Green’s accessibility proves to be his most salient quality. Black Sands, different from the many releases that flood today’s record stores, is a very unique product due to the meticulous artisanship and the communicativeness of the music itself. Green’s interest is in making his music ever-present, as a never out of style sound used as a reference point for continuing innovations in method and composition. While it is by no means a substitute for the near-flawless Days to Come, it is a competent follow-up to an already stellar back catalogue of work. This “intelligent dance music,” as the children call it, is not a sufficient description; it only scratches at the surface of Bonobo’s true depth. Simon Green stands with a select group of musicians who have been consistent in both quantity/quality output of this type of introspective music. Bonobo’s Black Sands is an album that should not be missed and is undoubtedly one of the most superior releases of this year.
Bonobo 10 Minute Teaser Mix