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Bonobo - The North Borders

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Artist: Bonobo

Album: The North Borders

Label: Ninja Tune

Review date: Apr. 8, 2013

A 13-track anthology in four-lettered parts, The North Borders is hardly a re-invention of the wheel for U.K. producer Simon Green, a.k.a. Bonobo. Rather, it’s a solid triumph for an ever-evolving artist who is already five albums deep into developing his own unique style. As distinctive as it is complex, is as much about the journey as its component pieces, commanding all the familiar electronic music components with ease, but infused with the warmth of soul and a kind of cross-continental sophistication.

Green beguiles by opening Part A with a trio of groovy tracks tinged with lamentation. “First Fires,” featuring fellow Ninja Tune associate Grey Reverend, is memorable and hot. No kidding. This is the kind of music that dilates your pupils. In some ways similar to Oliver Sim of The xx, his croon sits perched upfront in the mix, so the intimacy of it unmistakable. The handclap heartbeat is crisp and caked in dust, while the synths and snare bring the rain. The lyrics of the chorus, “Honestly I can’t believe it’s burning again / Like the first fire” could have been written by Seal, and the epic string-wound bridge belongs in an Ethan Hawke love scene from the 1990s.

It’s a delicate act of building up and balancing incongruent organic elements like dust and dew, but that is where Bonobo continues to shine. Parts B and C feel closer in the Bonobo tradition of fixating on the details in linear progressions — blending intoxicatingly strange loops and toy-like samples with muted particles of acid jazz, glistening beats and meltingly deep rhythms. His vocal collaborations with Erykah Badu on “Heaven for the Sinner” and later with Swedish newcomer Cornelia on “Pieces,” in Part D, are delightfully airy, trip-notic, childlike and ineffably funky. Where there is dub-step, one finds it submerged and driving from the backseat.

Stand aside though for “Antenna,” because at 110BPM, this is what owning the sidewalk sounds like. Urban strut-sters of the northern hemisphere, by now aching for sunshine, may well fall in love with Part C this spring on that unplanned walk home from the office. The exotic groove is the most pleasant surprise on the album and a great track for the ol’ workout playlist.

By Erin Leigh Zimman

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