He Likes to Move It
Perhaps my umbilical cord once got snagged on a fence, but I’ve never been one for travelling. The Old English word “haligdaeg”, which became our modern “holiday”, suggests a rest from the norm while we pilgrim for somewhere holier. Not for me: give me the fireplace warmth of “hygge” over beaches measled with tourists. So it’s no surprise that I approached Bonobo’s sixth album with the uncontrolled stress of a holidayer clattering through duty free, whereas British DJ Simon Green took his cue for this album from the concept of moving away from home, away from your comfort places.
“Is home where you are or where you are from, when you move around?” he asks. That’s an easy one. It’s my house, Si, home is where my pile of Electronic Sounds live. “It’s interesting how one person will take an influence from one part of the world and move with that influence and affect another part of the world. Over time, the identities of places evolve.” No they don’t, Si. My writing studio still has a poster of ‘Amnesiac’-era Radiohead on the wall. I’m going to need Google Earth and a tolerance of world music to enjoy this record, aren’t I?
Following the critical acclaim of 2010’s solid ‘Black Sands’, Bonobo’s last album ‘The North Borders’ went Top 40. It was one brief week assisted by the presence of Erykah Badu: a rim shot amid a cacophony of drum solos, but a welcome shot of success for Ninja Tune in the absence of the totemic Coldcut (welcome back, guys). A “one-man Cinematic Orchestra”, they called him.
On the surface, if Bonobo is on a journey, ‘Migration’ doesn’t travel far from those previous albums. The insistent rhythms sometimes take their cue from an imaginative selection of field recordings: a Hong Kong elevator, Seattle rain, the propeller of a New Orleans boat, a tumble dryer in Atlanta. But we always veer back to the lounge. Indeed, this is where the album starts: title track ‘Migration’ is a slow-burning saunter where scuffing cymbals swell gently into freeform jazz. Even softer is the smoky falsetto of Mike Milosh from Rhye on ‘Break Apart’, so refined and restrained while lilting brass wafts over the music as if risen from sleepy Yorkshire valleys of yesteryear.
There are brave moments: at one point, blues voices evoke a distant Mississippi Delta; and modern trance meets old style ritualistic trance thanks to glorious incantations by the Morocco-inspired Innov Gnawa collective. But it’s softness that pervades everything. This is a padded Pantha Du Prince. Floating Points with added fluff. Quilted Four Tet with aloe vera. Even when Hundred Waters singer Nicole Miglis, almost conversational in tone, gives us the closest thing we have to an epic chorus, listen closely: amid the rhythmic whiplashes is a tender melody washed with silver strings.
Recent single ‘Kerala’ is a music geek’s dream: the “yeah yeah” hook is a pitched-up sample of fleeting backing vocals from Brandy’s Whitney-inspired ‘Baby’. It’s as catchy as heck, but it seems afraid to move beyond its fragile harp and brushed bass drum. When Bonobo stretches himself, the tautness holds nicely. For example, the superb ‘No Reason’ with Nick “Chet Faker” Murphy. “Looking like soldiers waiting to drown / Pictures of people that don’t make a sound,” he opines as our emotions shatter. The track loses itself in space before returning with a fat techno line, frequencies set to stun. Spellbinding. Or how about ‘Outlier’ which dumps the real instruments on the edge of the dancefloor for a stuttering four/four house beat. Its keyboard line spills into fuzzy resonance allowing an acid-edged lead to dive down through the sonic register until all we have left are tingles in the air as if recalling the last sunlight of the day. Like I said, spellbinding.
Si Green is about to jet off on a tour that will take in Boston, Brussels and, er, Bexhill-On-Sea. I wonder what he listens to between cities? I can imagine playing this album driving Route 66, surfing a Florida beach, paragliding Niagra Falls, riding dolphins down the Nile, tobogganing Everest. What am I saying? I’m still not one for travelling, and maybe that’s the point. I really don’t think ‘Migration’ is about how far the journey is, it’s about how deep it goes. Stay in tonight. Armchair in front of the fireplace. Listen carefully. Beyond the chill out sheen lies an instrumentalist so skilled in structuring his music, that the dense layers rarely get tangled. Beautifully paced, richly orchestrated, nothing radical, highly recommended.