Review of North Borders Album by Bonobo

Simon Green, under the pseudonym Bonobo, has taken a long time to travel a short distance. In a manner mirroring the vibes of his music, Green's has been a story of slow but noticeable progression that has taken almost a decade and a half to reach what could well be a defining work of broad scope but instant familiarity.

Bonobo North Borders Album

For his fifth full-length, a great point of reference is another defining work, Yppah's Eighty One album which preceded the release of North Borders by almost a year to the day, and on the same record label. Both have the feel of an artist finally finding their voice after much experimentation with tone and dialect, situated in the hazy field of down-tempo electronica but calling upon traces of hip-hop, jazz, dubstep and more ambient spheres, and whilst on North Borders Bonobo doesn't go to the same lengths as the Joe Corrales Jr's crowning achievement there is still a pleasing amount of diversity throughout.

Both also call on vocal contributions from others but are primarily instrumental. North Borders' first single 'Cirrus' is entirely instrumental, with crisp beats and hang drum samples that bring to mind Portico Quartet transplanted fully into the nightclub dancefloors they've often stood on the edge of, but many of the album's highlights are vocal driven. Opener 'First Fire' has a soulful contribution from labelmate Grey Reverend that eases the album in perfectly, resting above sub-bass and ebbing strings that effloresce beautifully at the tracks climax, whilst Erkyah Badu's coos on 'Heaven For The Sinner', a marriage of snappy percussion and twinkling harps, typify modern soul. Her utterance "I'm just glad it's not a race, I'd lose" could well be an autobiographical epitaph for Simon himself.

What sets Bonobo apart in an overly crowded marketplace, again like Yppah, is an expert ability to channel myriad influences from outside of his sphere into something that works perfectly inside it, not just within a single track but start-to-finish across an album. It is something that has prevented fellow Ninja Tune staple Daedelus from breaking through amongst countless others, for all his high-points, and that equates to a rarity in a typically single-obsessed genre. Who cares about the speed and distance of a journey when it's as enjoyable as this?

Jordan Dowling

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