British producer Simon Green, aka Bonobo, returned this month with the release of his sixth studio album, Migration. As you’ll soon hear, it’s a welcome comeback for his first release since 2013’s The North Borders.
Opening with the title track, there’s an otherworldly feel, almost as though it could have been recorded in a secluded forest. There are hints of Mogwai in their more mellow moments, and following the first few listens it seems the perfect introduction to what will follow. “Break Apart” provides more of the same, adding Bon Iver style vocals from R&B duo Rhye, and building to a horn-fuelled finale.
Unfortunately the album isn’t without fault. I could personally take or leave the next track, “Outlier”. At almost 8 minutes long, I’m not convinced it adds anything to the album, and it comes across as a Four Tet knock off. It just sounds a little too familiar. “Grains” does its best to regain momentum with male and female chanting, giving off a spiritual and atmospheric aura – the beat that is finally introduced at the halfway point lends a more expansive and cinematic feel.
There then follows an interlude of sorts in “Second Sun”. It’s more modern classical than electronica, featuring piano and strings woven around each other, but is a welcome break from the usual bleepy synth. However, this feeling of relief is tempered as it is followed by the other damp squib on this release, “Surface”. Nicole Miglis, of the band Hundred Waters, provides a vocal which is hardly worth shouting about, and I can’t help but think that the instrumental alone would have been a more worthwhile contribution.
All is not lost though, as the album builds further to its summit. “Bambro Koyo Ganda” takes vocals from North African collective Innov Gnawa and adds a subtle bassline and sampled drum pattern. These beats made from everyday sounds are present throughout the release, and lend a semblance of uniqueness to each track. I say semblance, as it’s a tried and tested method, as used by many of Green’s contemporaries.
The triptych that follows forms, undoubtedly, the peak of the album. “Kerala” takes a Burial-style, broken, 2-step beat and adds harp samples. The soothing sounds draw you in, only for a vocal to introduce itself like a Destiny’s Child offcut. Everything blends perfectly, to provide one of the highlights of the album. Hot on its heels comes “Ontario”. Often used in electronica, the trusty sitar makes an appearance to add a global feel. It winds around piano chords and a melody is formed that occasionally lifts to the most glorious heights. Completing the hat-trick is “No Reason”. Already singled out by Mark in his A-List column on Sunday evening, the best vocal on the album (supplied by Nick Murphy, otherwise known as Chet Faker) is enveloped by a great drum track, and gentle staccato synths, perfectly straddling the line between melancholy and euphoria.
The album draws to a close with “7th Sevens” and “Figures”, both of which are very pleasing, but feel a little like electronica by numbers. Nonetheless, they provide a fitting conclusion to the album.
Not without its drawbacks, the release as a whole is a fine piece of work. Historically I’ve always favored albums that leave the best until last – Michael Jackson’s Bad always springs to mind with its closing gambit of “Dirty Diana”, “Smooth Criminal” and “Leave Me Alone” – so with each listen the first half of the album is growing on me, while the anticipation of what is yet to come builds.
As with any electronica, don’t expect to hear it in the clubs, but I could imagine it would be well-suited to a live performance, just as it is to soundtracking your daily commute, or your Sunday morning in bed with the papers. I’d recommend you give it a go – you won’t be disappointed.
HIGHLIGHTS: “Kerala”, “Ontario”, “No Reason”.