17 Apr, 2013

Bonobo – “The North Borders”

BonoboThere is an album review out there on the internet stating that no particular track stands out on Bonobo’s latest release, The North Borders. It doesn’t matter who wrote the said review or where it came from, because that review doesn’t stand out much itself. Hopefully this review will help clarify things and illustrate the greatness of The North Borders…because it is great.

For one thing, any Bonobo fan will likely appreciate the first new album from Simon Green in three years. In 2010, Black Sands was released and made such an impact that it invoked the release of Black Sands Remixed, utilizing remix efforts by a whole slew of artists. The obvious question arises, then, of how The North Borders compares to such a seminal release. The new album sounds like a Bonobo release without a doubt. It has elements of jazz and downtempo trailing through grooving basslines that bump with a mellow quality, much like Green’s previous work but more unassuming. Upon a first listen, it’s not what you’d expect to hear on a dance floor but something that you can bob your head to.

It doesn’t stop on the first listen, however. After listening to the album once, I was impressed and delighted. But, in fear of sounding like our dear anonymous internet reviewer, no particular track left an overwhelming impression. Rather, the entire album did. It takes one on a journey through soundscapes taking care to avoid lingering in one spot more than any other. It is engrossing and blissful. Then there is the second listen. Was there something else there? And the third listen. More new sounds emerge. And so forth and so on with each successive journey. With every listen more light is shed on the many layers hidden within The North Borders, and each time the album makes a deeper impression. That is when particular tracks begin to stand out.

Fortunately, this reviewer has listened to The North Borders no less than five times in the past week. The album never lets up to give way to a full on foot stomping beat but, rather, keeps a steady groove going all the way through. This isn’t to say there are no beats. They are there, but they are hidden amongst layers of melodies that captivate the attention and draw it in another direction far removed from the mere repetition of a beat. Take the track “Cirrus” for example. It has a beat that could easily be danced to, but the chimes and bells driving the track fill the listener’s ears with rhythms reminiscent of Nordic music. As soon as that tracks ends the album’s journey sinks into “Heaven For The Sinner”, a track that nonchalantly features Erykah Badu as she assists in carrying us along our path that bumps up ever so slightly into the following track “Sapphire”. These three tracks are characteristic of the intoxicating ebb and flow that carefully persists in all of The North Borders. After one listen this is a great album, but after many it proves to be a work of art and mastery.

A final note is that of the connections between Bonobo, The North Borders and Boulder, Colorado. It may come as no surprise that Simon Green has a constant ear for new sounds and sources of inspiration for what permeates his work. On a past visit through Boulder, Green caught sight of a vibraphone and harp that he acquired and went on to use in composing The North Borders track “Transits”. These tools were used to excellent effect, as one can hear in this wonderful glimpse of the journey of the album. If that isn’t enough exposure for Boulder, then a lucky few will be able to experience the wonder for themselves later this month. Bonobo will be playing with a full band at the Fox Theatre to a sold out audience on April 25. If you don’t happen to be one of those few, there’s still hope. At the time of this writing, a few tickets are still available to the April 26 Bonobo show at the Ogden in Denver.

Review by Mike Sophocles.

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