Review Summary: An expansion to Bonobo's trademark laid back, sample driven sound, Days to Come is Simon Green's best work to date.
In 1999, Brighton musician Simon Green released his first track Terrapin as part of a Tru Thoughts compilation record. When the label phoned asking Green for a name under which to release the track, he chose from a book at random the word Bonobo which refers to a rare species of chimpanzee. Shortly afterwards, in 2000, the first full Bonobo album Animal Magic was released. Since then Green, still operating under his Bonobo alias, has gained some amount of recognition for his laid back, sample driven music, and he is seen as a well established artist within “downtempo” and “chillout” genres.
It was this reputation which first lead me to Bonobo, via a Chilled Ibiza compilation featuring Terrapin which I found whilst raking through my dad’s CD rack. After hearing Terrapin I downloaded a few more Bonobo tracks, and I figured that I had found a great source of background music to snooze or go to sleep to. Eventually, however, as I dozed through more and more of Bonobo’s catalogue, the music slowly began to seep through into my somnolent consciousness. I would find myself searching through my music collection trying to find some half-remembered sample or song which had gotten stuck in my head. When I eventually realised that Bonobo was the source of much of this semi-forgotten music, I decided that perhaps this artist was deserving of my full attention.
Released in 2006, Days to come is Bonobo’s third official release, and it represents a significant expansion to Green’s sound. The most obvious contrast to previous Bonobo releases is the inclusion of vocals on almost half of the tracks on the album. Green’s Jazz influences are also very apparent on this album, with smooth samples of pizzicato double bass sliding their way onto a number of tracks.
Guest vocalist Bakja makes a prominent contribution to the album, making her first appearance on the album’s title track. Bajka’s husky, understated vocals compliment the smooth, rhythmically driven instrumentals well, and gently add a focal point to the music without compromising the laid back atmosphere which is Green’s signature sound. Bajka appears on three more tracks throughout the album, and I feel that her presence is something which sets this album apart from Bonobo’s previous work.
The basis of much of Green’s composition relies on the build up of tracks starting with one or two samples and gradually incorporating layer after layer until the full intricacy of the track is realised. This approach, strangely enough, finds me equating Bonobo to post rock, especially Mogwai, if only in structure and not necessarily in overall mood or sound.
The best example of this on the album is Ketto. The track begins with a messy harp sample which sounds decidedly uncomfortable, until the bass and percussion kicks in providing it with a perfect framework. The track expands gradually with more samples until, around the half way mark, everything fades out and is replaced by a soft, unintelligible vocal sample and a smooth, flowing harp sound in the background. From there the track builds again but the mood has subtly been changed from an almost awkward rhythm driven section, to a smooth melodic section. This transition creates a subtle, but really quite beautiful musical moment, and there are several more like it ready to creep up on you as you make your way through this album.
Bonobo’s sound is decidedly characterised by extensive use of sampling, and the fairly intricate, sample built percussion sections on tracks such as On Your Marks are quite reminiscent of DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing. Unlike Mr. Shadow, however, Green is a multi-instrumentalist and a lot of what you hear on the album was in fact played by him before being chopped up and sampled. The album in general has quite a trip-hop feel to it, but where much of traditional trip-hop is characterised by intensely brooding (Massive Attack) or intensely soulful (Portishead) atmospheres, the jazz influences and relaxed mood give a Bonobo’s music a lighter, more playful feel to it.
On Your Marks is followed by If You Stayed Over which drops the tempo of the album down a notch and the track’s melancholic vocals (provided by guest artist Fink), plodding bass and some poignant sounding strings create a sombre contrast to the generally light hearted mood of the album. While the track is not necessarily a standout it does help to create some depth and variety, and is a worthwhile inclusion.
The album closes well with instrumental Recurring. Green’s layering approach is apparent again here as this track also starts with a single sample and snowballs with the addition of sampled percussion, unintelligible vocal samples and some lonely sounding cello. Basically Recurring is a re-iteration of all of the tricks previously used on the album, but it comes together well and is definitely a strong (although gently executed as ever) point to finish on.
The fact that Bonobo’s music is very often classified as “chillout” or “downtempo” may encourage some to disregard it merely as background music, and I will admit that I can see why. This is subtle, unobtrusive music which will easily slide by unnoticed in the background if you wish to leave it there. I can assure you, however, that this album is well worth listening to in its own right and I would urge you to give it a try. If you haven’t heard of Bonobo before I can see this album potentially appealing to trip-hop fans, as I suggested earler. Also listeners of other downtempo or electronic music such as Boards of Canada or Four Tet may well find it worth a listen. If you have listened to Bonobo’s other work then I strongly recommend this album as this is Bonobo at its best.