Following in the footsteps of Daniel Snaith and Kieran Hebden last year, Simon Green (aka Bonobo) again broadens his scope and delivers his most diverse album yet. Predecessor Black Sands
stretched his palette of trip-hop beats as far as it could, so on The North Borders
Bonobo extends his signature subdued sound in the most surprising but logical way possible: by head-on tackling the dance floor. The Pantha du Prince-meets-Four Tet house vibe of 'Cirrus' is the most prominent proponent of this, and anyone who heard it already knows it works wonders. By avoiding instantaneous explosions of fake euphoria, and offering instead an organic buildup with no real resolution, Bonobo stays true to the essence of what made his music so likeable in the past. Elsewhere, 'Sapphire' and especially 'Know You', with their lush piano / synthesizer blurs, longing chopped-up vocal samples and a two-step rhythm straight from Untrue
, show off Green's exciting take on garage music, and could have easily been included on Phaeleh's stellar album, Fallen Light
Another clear point of reference is the futuristic hip-hop template from the Brainfeeder label, especially when the glitchy percussion and artificial vinyl crackle on 'Heaven For The Sinner' is backed by the unique and always astounding vocals of soul princess Erykah Badu. Admittedly, there's a lot of namedropping going on in this little blurb of text, but don't be tempted to think that Bonobo is getting lazy and is just aping his peers nowadays. The songs on The North Borders
are just too darn good
on their own merit for them to be labeled as derivative. As with his previous work, Green shows he has a keen eye for detail - every drum pattern, synth lead or sampled water droplet is tweaked to aural perfection - and the man knows how to actually distil precious life in his tracks. It's those two feats that still set Bonobo above the already fierce competition.
Then, to counteract the influx of new styles he previously largely ignored, Green positions 'Jets', an astonishing instrumental track and surely the clear highlight of The North Borders
, straight at the heart of the album, as to remind us how far he's progressed since he first started as a producer of chilled-out trip-hop in the late 90's. Bonobo's new record is at the core still very much indebted to the sound of his early material and doesn't hold any drastic changes per se. But that's just how evolution works: one little baby step at a time. And look where it brought us. So just let time decide where this particular monkey will go next. Returning to The North Borders
as a snapshot of Bonobo's continuing journey, it's both very forward thinking and staying true to tradition; restless but comfortable, lighthearted and deep. And it's quite possibly the best thing released all year.