If Bonobo wasn’t already among the top order of electronic artists upon the release of ‘The North Borders’ in 2013, the response and subsequent journey of that record means that now – returning with ‘Migration’, Simon Green’s sixth album under the moniker – he most certainly is. He racked up 175 shows across 30 countries in touring ‘The North Borders’, bowing out with a triumphant showcasing at London’s Alexandra Palace. It’s a live show that captures the imagination of fans from across a broad musical spectrum, bringing to life his compositions in a way that’s uplifting, elegant and technically proficient.
When Bonobo gets it right, his recorded work produces the same sense of spectacle, and there are moments on ‘Migration’ that do just that. The opening title track is an immediate standout – a beautifully textured take on the album’s migratory themes, its lush piano notes moving the track forward while adapting to the ever-shifting environments that surround it. It’s purposeful, ambitious, and ties together a heap of ideas in a coherent gesture that will continue to gratify, even after heaps of listens.
‘No Reason’, a collaboration with Nick Murphy (fka Chet Faker), is an equally strong gesture – its snaking progressions and bubbling electronics creating one of the record’s most intense atmospheres, while ‘Outlier’ provides the most explicit example of the influence and insight drawn from Bonobo’s foot in club culture. Closing track ‘Figures’ then provides an emotionally-charged endpoint to match the opening, with a sample of Elkie Brooks’ 1978 track ‘Just An Excuse’ repurposed over broken beats, warm bass notes and a string quartet. It’s a peculiarly familiar closing however – the sample employed by one of dance music’s true luminaries in the form of Moodymann’s ‘Why Do U Feel’ in 2012, and that essence of familiarity manifests itself in other ways across the record.
There may be fresh jewels to add to the Bonobo repertoire here, but on the whole ‘Migration’ feels like a somewhat sideward step. There’s a stylistic consistency with both ‘Black Sands’ and ‘The North Borders’ that feels all too static for an artist of Simon Green’s calibre. ‘Grains’ and ‘Second Sun’ – the album’s more delicate points – veer in to feeling more directionless than they do subtle, while moments such as ‘’Surface’ and ‘Ontario’ don’t carry the same depth of ideas as their cousins on previous Bonobo records. For an album centred on migration – inspired by the many people, places and things he’s has experienced over the past three years – you’d hope there’d be more new ideas injected in to Simon’s music. As it is however, ‘Migration’ feels disappointingly close to home.