Four years have passed since Simon Green aka Bonobo released his fifth album, The North Borders, in which he tried to explore new musical directions and detached himself from the jazzy and “downtempoish” atmospheres that were hallmarks of his previous releases, moving towards a much more electronic sound.
Unfortunately, the experiment lead to an ordinary chillwave record that, although has made Green reach mainstream success, felt like a step back in comparison to his most powerful work, such as Days To Come and Black Sands, being way simpler in its arrangements and unable to fully enhance the opportunity to work with top-class artists like Erykah Badu.
With Migration, his sixth album, released the 13th of January via Ninja Tune, the Brighton-born producer confirms the will to discover new solutions in the development of his music but chooses a more meditative approach in comparison to the one used in The North Borders, and a denser music palette, both acoustic and electronic. The record is also enriched by a good use of samples and the presence of international artists from different countries, such as Canadian singer Mike Milosh from the L.A. based band Rhye, Australian singer and producer Nick Murphy (fka Chet Faker) and the Moroccan band Innov Gnawa.
Nonetheless, this “study of people and spaces” is far from being his best work yet.
In fact, although it opens in majestic way, with the homonymous track building up patiently trough the abstract piano written by Jon Hopkins and the flawlessly arranged drums, graceful and at the same time dynamic, the record isn’t able though to maintain the same tension throughout the whole run.
The second track (and also the second single released), “Break Apart”, is already incapable to keep up with the complexity of “Migration”, and even though Milosh’ performance is touching as usual and the lyrics are quite interesting, it still feels like a sort of a break before the third track: “Outlier”, probably one of Bonobo’s best track in many years.
In eight minutes Green gathers his whole experience as a musician, creating a polished masterpiece, in which he smoothly transits from downtempo to EDM over a drum line that is both energetic and delicate, just to conclude it with the sample of a gorgeous harp solo, gently rising over the beat.
Simon’s ability with sampling is also what makes “Grains” (the fourth track) one of the best moment in the record. A vocal sample from “One Grain Of Sand” by Peter Seger is, in fact, brilliantly transformed in a vocal synth that rides over a slow drum-beat and an essential bass-line, followed by a cello, a viola and a violin.
But after the “Second Sun” interlude, which features a sample from Syrinx’s “December Angel”, well arranged but with less creativity in comparison to “Grains”, the record loses his grip with the sixth track, “Sunrise”, featuring Nicole Miglis, a pop break that lacks consistency both musically and lyrically.
However, Green is able to restore the ambiance thanks to “Bambro Koyo”, the seventh track of the record, in which the fusion between different cultures’ sounds is stronger, mixing up typical Moroccan percussions, performed by the native band Innow Gnawa, with a strong EDM kick and bass-line.
“Kerala”, the album’s eight track and the first single to be released, which samples “Baby” by R’n’B singer Brandy, is surely catchy and coherent with the rest of the record, but lacks of inventive and feels like a safe play, an already explored territory, just like “Ontario”, the ninth song of the record, that nostalgically evokes the atmospheres and tempos of Black Sands.
“No Reason”, instead, appears to be a wasted opportunity. Just like he did with Erykah Badu in “Heaven For The Sinner”, the third track from The North Borders, Green doesn’t take advantage of Murphy’s presence and sacrifices originality to accessibility, opting for a popish approach that result in a disappointing, well produced EDM song.
Nevertheless, the album’s conclusion tries to restore the pensive ambiance of the beginning, but neither “7th Sevens” or “Figures” have the same complexity of “Migration” or “Outlier”, being too linear in their arrangements and just softening the palette of the Brighton-born producer’s early works.
Although Migration is certainly an improvement compared with its direct predecessor but despite the many high levels of its productions, it has many flaws, and it is unable to stand the comparison with Green’s greatest records. It also shows how the producer is split between the research of a new musical direction and the fear of taking too many risks, becoming unable to exploit its good ideas in their entirety, clipping its own wigs for the sake of accessibility.
It is hard not to think that Migration, could’ve been something more than what it is, maybe with little more time, with little more courage.
Full listen to the album below: