Simon Green has been releasing music as Bonobo since 2000. Let’s start with that. 17 years ago. His debut, Animal Magic, would be half way through AS Art and Design at the local college, probably self-involved and cool enough to be the type of person who listens to Bonobo. In the years between then and now, he’s released numerous albums, EPs, and had a hand in countless mixtapes and projects. When it comes to downtempo electronic music, he’s kind of your go to man.
So an ode to Bonobo, firstly. Or a Bonobode, if you’ll let me have that one. I spent three years at college bumming around and skipping classes to go slackline in the park, and that time seems almost impossible to remember without Black Sands (his fourth album, released in 2010) floating out of a Bluetooth speaker. His is undoubtedly the best in the Late Night Tales series; the mix is so good that I can forgive him for the fact that I always forget about Benedict Cumberbatch appearing at the end to read me a bedtime story (something no one wants or should ever have to be subjected to). Hearing that there was a new Bonobo album due for 2017 kept me going through the last dark few weeks of last year when it seemed like the only music that existed were Christmas songs, Clean Bandit’s Rockabye, and anything by a musician that had famously died within the year. Talk about bleak.
In those dark few weeks, the lead single Kerala was released and appeared, mirage like, on streaming devices. It was everything I needed: sharp, well mixed, and the perfect combination of instrumental samples and what can only be described as melodic wailing – but I mean that in a good way, I promise. This was a perfect sample of what the rest of the album would deliver. 12 tracks of very complexly crafted simplicity. There is not one single second in the album that feels out of place, or like a second thought; all 62 minutes are so effortless that they can only have been the result of careful craftsmanship and planning.
What makes this album so great is that it manages to capture specificities without losing the mood it creates. That’s generally what marks experimental downtempo electronic leaning music. You know, the vibe, the mood, the nameless and almost purposeless chill factor that some guy on Soundcloud is trying to create. They often work, making a great vibe but losing all personality and warmth in the process. It’s the MrSuicideSheep playlist effect, and Bonobo swerves it by grounding Migration around the very apt topic of, er, migration.
Nature has always had a place in his process, but it has never sounded quite this important before. Kerala, Ontario, Break Apart, Outlier, Surface. The track titles and cover art, in regular Bonobo fashion, enough to make anyone go backpacking, but this album pushes the idea of nature further than Green has taken it before. There’s more of a focus on instruments and a free mixing style that uses electronic beats to make the ‘natural’ sounds stand out.
The album shifts you around, giving you different sounds from different cultures, which sounds dangerously close to being unbearably pretentious, but I promise it works. Migration. Movement. As always, Bonobo’s featuring artists ground the album. That isn’t to say that the tracks without a featured artists are worse, but as the whole album stands together, the addition of Rhye, Nicole Miglis, and Innov Gnawa, and Nick Murphy (aka Chet Faker) build the layers that make Migration such a rewarding listen.