If I were to pinpoint the exact memory listening to Simon Green’s multilayered but utterly compact electronica evokes it would be waking up at 6 am on a train en route to the state of Kerala on a humid summer in 2009. My back hurt from the horrific bed I was forced to sleep on (a permanent injury i’m realizing now) and a sleepy look outside the window saw a blur of every shade of green that could possibly exist. The air was thick with moisture; it was raining, it would persist the whole month. It was all quite honestly the most wonderful thing. And Bonobo is exactly that – the pressed and complicated allure of faraway places hung to dry in a mixing room of jingles and trip-hop. Bonobo‘s fifth studio album brings with it the same dazzling noise of a post-apocalyptic Eastern dreamscape but there is also something different here. A more industrial noise this time around, a smokescreen of refinement which translates to a much more easily conveyed message. The North Borders isn’t complicated. It’s good, its definitely good and each song sits easily on an album that can be taken in on one listen. At first I assumed it was a different sound altogether, but perhaps it’s just another facet of Green’s enigmatic style found in all of his albums.
Is future-memory a thing? Because that’s what Bonobo consistently sounds like. A memory from a distant future dressed up to look like the past. A culture of sound distinctly past the year 3000 built on a foundation both ancient and organic. Do you guys remember Samurai Jack? Think Samurai Jack. Think earthy vines held together by wires and ramen shops floating in space. Jungle runs and tribal warfare on steel platforms with digital watches replacing the sun. Bonobo provides the soundtrack to a narrative in which my imagination can operate on peak YOLO. For instance, Black Sands is fantastic because I consistently like to pretend i’m the main character of a film where I’m a Canadian diplomat who joins, undercover, a Commie Naxalite party, a ridiculous movie that Bonobo seems to work spectacularly well with, especially that album. Trust me, i’ve fucking perfected the fantasy at this point. I encourage you all to try it out – if not the Naxals, any rebel group will do.
Here’s the thing, The North Borders conjures up a new fantasy entirely. Or rather, it’s just a passing scene. More realistically lost and quietly troubled, the noise is undoubtedly beautiful but I can’t help but think the overall message is one-dimensional. And perhaps that speaks to the space Green himself resided in while he wrote the album. One of the album’s singles also doubles as the opening track -‘First Fires’ featuring Grey Reverend invites the listener to be a part of a story as do all Bonobo albums – but here we get the clear picture of an everyman experiencing an everyman-type of crisis. It’s a catchy track that leaves you feeling excitedly grey, easy enough to slip into and play behind whatever conflict is currently colouring your life. ‘Emkay’ is lush and easy and climbs into ‘Cirrus ‘with ease – which taps into the ‘chill electronic music you would listen to while hanging out in the Amazonian rainforest’ vibe Bonobo usually plays up. Track 4, ‘Heaven for the Sinner’ featuring the effervescent Erykah Badu (who actually sounds like she was always a part of all of Green’s albums, but surprisingly this is the first) changes up the pace and comes in sounding like a track Kendrick Lamar would sample in a Good Kid Maad City B-side. It’s perfectly drowsy and personally my favourite track of the album.
‘Sapphire’ and ‘Jets’ are both good numbers, made to be evident nighttime car listening type of songs but you could also just listen to both of them while eating a stale Bagel on your bed and not really remember when either of the tracks began or finished or how you actually felt about them. Because thats pretty much what happened. This is also when I began realizing that The North Border’s sounds good, and its darn pretty but also what? What’s going on here? I’m hit with bouts of irritation throughout the album because I can’t seem to find anything to really take away from it all other than how good each song sounds precisley while i’m listening to it. Wait, let me explain.
If i were to compartmentalize musicians, Bonobo definitely fits into a space where I’m looking for the music to INCEPT me and be the backdrop for an entire chunk of time. Like I said earlier, fantasy music – that perfect assortment of songs to soundtrack a trip or a particularly strange surreal month. The North Borders unfortunately doesn’t move too far past being just beautiful noise. There is a story here, but it’s a filler, punctuating Green’s impressive discography with a laid back simplicity that isn’t bad but it isn’t anywhere near as good as his other work. It kind of feels like Simon Green threw himself a ‘welcome back’ party at his own apartment and decided to DJ it for one night with shit he threw together while he popped Ritalin and felt good about the success of his prior album. It sounds like he’s taking it easy. And thats fine, take a breather Mr.Green but also The North Borders is going to be what I listen to in my car when I want to have a conversation with someone else, and I wont interrupt them and go “yo straight up, you have to listen to this”.
‘Ten Tigers’ is a beauty of a track though, fantastical in its ability to bring together the hum of a typewriter and the sharp notes of a synth lute. It slowly builds up into a third minute that hints at a tale that disappears just as quickly as it began. It’s the same hurried aggressive sadness of a train leaving a station, and its perfect. ‘Pieces’, the concluding song had me nearly do a spit-take. It’s entirely new, doesn’t fit into the feel of the rest of the album and might be the strangest last ‘track’ i’ve ever heard. I’m not sure what to make of it, and it felt a bit like I accidentally ended up at a Feist/IndiaArie mashup concert. So i’ll leave it at that. If this is your first time listening to Bonobo, The North Borders is actually quite good. If you spent days together on another continent listening to Animal Magic and Days to Come getting your mind blown though, then The North Borders is going to feel like tea-time with an old friend who doesn’t want to talk about themselves anymore. I encourage you all to explore Bonobo, because he truly is a brilliant musician, and take this album in like a supplement.
Also this is my first post, so HAYOOOOOOOO.