Whether you're at a cafe, on the train, or just walking around aimlessly, there is no setting that Bonobo can't command. His seemingly simple drum loops and chords end up blossoming into audible nostalgia. Recognition, anticipation, and atmospheric are all words I would use to describe his signature sound; a man who has mastered the sounds of nature to create instrumental music. Simon Green, who goes by the moniker Bonobo, is a British musician who has been around for more than a decade. Green has always held a strong presence within the electronic community, which I think is attributed to his consistency with touring. He addressed this topic in an interview with EARMILK, where a question came up about doing 175 shows over the course of a single tour. His response was that he's practically homeless, and elaborated with "When I'm on not on tour I'm usually just lingering in whatever city I've ended up in, until the next thing happens." Since then Bonobo has locked down in the city of Los Angeles and finished his latest artistic endeavor-- Migration. An album that was inspired by constant travel, living abroad, and exploration of different cultures.
The Story Behind Kerala
The first single released from this album was Kerala. A song which implies little change with its repetition, however progresses by adding distinct layers or isolating sounds. The most noticeable change is the vocal sample added in halfway through the song, which gives it a completely new feel and adds twice the amount of depth. As the song comes to an end, all of the background noises come to a halt, and what's left is a starry synth that fades into a funneling distortion. Overall, this was an interesting introduction to the album, however Bonobo continued promoting this song and enhanced it with a music video. The music video shows that the use of repetition was intentional. Each couple hundred frames are repeated, yet the story still progresses. It almost seems like a project that reached completion in editing, but when the file was revisited it became corrupt. Although I'm sure there's symbolism that can be taken away from the video, I feel like it's a little too open-ended for a conclusion. Whereas some may perceive it to be as humanity being stuck in a loop, it could also be viewed as a daunting and impossible escape from reality. Everyone in the video is very clearly confused by her motives, but as the viewers we have an obligation to feel some level of empathy. Regardless, there are some pretty cool Easter eggs hidden throughout the entire clip. One of my personal favorites being the burning apartment building towards the end of the video, which closely resembles the beautiful Migration cover art.
The Many Roads This Album Will Lead You Down
The intro to this album is by far the most beautiful part of it. With the self-titled track "Migration", Bonobo starts off by mesmerizing the listeners with a dreary piano. The song then blossoms with complimenting drums and vocals. If there was a visual aspect to this song it would be an airplane's departure-- starting with passengers boarding the plane, and ending with them being above the clouds looking over a beautiful skyline. The track "Break Apart" has a fairly similar start, however it remains at a slow and steady pace. It's also very apparent why Bonobo picked Rhye as a feature for this track, her singing brings the rest of the sounds together in a way the other features wouldn't be able to. Although not as impressive as Kerala, this song also has a pretty cool music video. It looks like a drone exploring an earth-like planet that has a sense of whimsy to it. The next few songs are when I had my first minor gripe with the album, which is the inconsistency in how this body of work is laid out. I think many of the songs on this album are great, but too often I find that they don't compliment what's before or after them. "Outlier" for example is a very enjoyable house-y tune, but in no way do I think it's a good transition from Break Apart. I could also see how the ending of "Outlier" works with "Grains", but I wish Bonobo kept building the momentum he started for a little longer. Again, this is just a minor gripe and if anything it's a matter of preference. The tracks continue in a similar order; something slow, something more grand and melodic, followed with a house-inspired beat. I would say the tracks that stuck out most to me are "Second Sun", "Surface", and "No Reason". Even though I think the rest are great, especially one's with features on them, there were few that gave me as much fulfillment as the intro tracks did. I also think that the outro track, "Figures", doesn't really compare to "Migration". The last 3 minutes of the song seem to be a slow fade away from the album, when I was hoping for something a little more climatic. Granted a slower and more heartfelt ending is a habit Bonobo isn't a stranger to, as seen in his Black Sands album and The North Borders album.
Despite these small gripes, this is one of the best albums I've listened to within the past year. It takes the previous sounds and styles of Bonobo and makes them more atmospheric. Although I said some of the tracks aren't comparable to the beginning, it's because of the high standard Bonobo set for himself. I would say only one track, "7th Sevens", seems filler and average for what I would come to expect from him. Everything else stood out in a unique way and has shown a lot of growth from Bonobo, not only as a producer, but as a musician as well. If there's anything to be taken away from the album, it would be this: every track will initially take you down a different road, but as you continue listening through the project you will come to revisit them, and maybe find these roads blending together.
A Tour Only Fitting for This Album's Message
One of the most exciting parts of an album release is a near guarantee for a tour. Although Bonobo has been touring for a while, his last stop in Boston was in 2014 and featured a standard DJ set. This time Bonobo will be coming through with his live band, which should make for a more realistic experience. It'll be interesting to see how Bonobo and the band will recreate synthetic and digitalized sounds in a live environment. Perhaps a fusion of live instrumentation and MIDI components is one of the goals for the tour, similar to artists like Pretty Lights, Emancipator, and Ott that have been lately focusing on these forms of innovation. Only time will tell, as he is beginning his tour in Europe starting February 15th. Joining him on the European leg of his tour will be Bradleyzero, Yussef Kamaal, Jens Kuross, and one of my favorites, Daktyl. All of these musicians have a small following compared to Bonobo, so it's nice to see him sharing the spotlight with upcoming artists. I'm especially happy to see Daktyl get some recognition, who I once saw opening for Giraffage and Slow Magic. I've been following him for a while, and I would love to see him be extended as an opener for the North American tour. I'm also hoping for the possibility of Nick Murphy, FKA Chet Faker, as an act for the US tour since their collaborative track is one of the more popular ones. Regardless, I'm sure Bonobo has a few tricks up his sleeve in regards to stage production, performance style, and special guests. He will be making his way back to Boston on April 26th, and I'm ecstatic to see what he brings this time around.
I could not have put it better than Mr. GRiZ himself. This album is spectacular to listen to outdoors, as long as your scenery is changing. The first listen through of this album for me was on the commute home. Seeing various towns, nature, and people is what the foundation of this album is built upon. It has a way of taking what you see and making it react to the sounds and patterns that only you're hearing. It's almost as if the name Migration gives away that this album is for those who hope to transform a routine into an adventure. An adventure curated by one of the most proclaimed musician's to have tread the waters of electronic music.