Randomly named after a Congolese chimpanzee, British producer Bonobo, aka Simon Green, has gradually become regarded as his homeland’s answer to the likes of Flying Lotus and Nosaj Thing thanks to four downtempo edge-of-the-dancefloor studio albums.
Such is his status that he’s now able to call on the immense talent of Erykah Badu for his fifth effort, The North Borders. The eccentric Grammy Award winner is magically other-worldly as usual on the glitchy after-hours electronica of “Heaven For The Sinner.” But the album’s cast of relative unknowns are also more than capable of holding their own with the First Lady of neo-soul.
Brooklyn-based labelmate Grey Reverend adds to the James Blake-esque vibes of the sparse dubstep-tinged opener “First Fires” with his gorgeously melancholic tones. Scandinavian singer-songwriter Cornelia, once a contestant on Swedish Idol, lends her coquettish charms to the 90s trip-hop throwback closer “Pieces.” Whilst the “Street Spirit”-esque guitar riffs, stuttering beats and submarine bleeps of the seductive “Towers” and the Morcheeba-does-two-step of “Transits” suggests UK soul chanteuse Szjerdene may be one to watch.
Bonobo’s gentle shuffle towards the mainstream continues on “Don’t Wait,” which echoes the witchy R&B of the hotly-tipped AlunaGeorge, and “Emkay,” a sumptuous take on the orchestral garage that MJ Cole perfected in the early 00s.
But although The North Borders is a slightly more accessible affair than 2010’s Black Sands, there’s still plenty here to satisfy fans of his more abstract work, from the flute-led slow-motion house instrumental “Antenna” to the stunning “Cirrus,” a bewitching organic blend of skipping percussion and chiming xylophones that sits up there with the best of his US counterparts’ soundscapes.
A cohesive, warm and typically soulful affair, The North Borders is by far the most immediate and arguably the most engaging record of Bonobo’s career.