The realm of digital music creation is one I have only rudimentary knowledge of. I have enjoyed many albums in the genre, but rarely has anything gripped my attention or brought me back for in depth listening. The problem with much of it is the formula. Here’s a beat, there’s some pretty sounds, now just add and subtract samples/beat elements for 4 minutes. Sadly I found this to be the overwhelming case in point with Bonobo‘s newest release, The North Borders.
The album does open strongly with the gorgeous and catchy “First Fires” featuring vocalist Grey Reverend. The track builds slowly with a digital dream beat that supports strings and a variety of percussive sounds. “Emkay” follows with an alluring opening that devolves into a static beat that weaves in and around a sampled vocal refrain. The lead single “Cirrus” is mainly a chorus of various bells over top a progressively stronger rhythm section. The tough part about these tracks was their length. “Cirrus” does alleviate this by changing the feel of the song halfway through to craft some rather dank sonic imagery.
The track featuring Erykah Badu was fairly interesting, but the beat felt a little recycled and buried her voice in too much scenery. I feel it might have had a stronger effect if her song had taken a precedence over the composition and guided it rather than the other way around. Badu’s soulful eccentricity is sadly absent from much of this and it feels rather like a missed opportunity at something more than background noise.
One of the few truly enjoyable tracks is the bright and frolicking “Antenna”. The woodwinds and shaker-heavy rhythm are charming elements that work exceptionally well with Bonobo’s shimmering harmonic choices. It may be no surprise that my favorite track on the record was also the shortest. With such linearity in the rhythms, I wish more of the record had been this restrained. “Ten Tigers” takes some further credit through some genuine exploration in sound. The closer, “Pieces” also has some fairly interesting moments that show a greater appreciation for a variant soundscapes.
While Bonobo did not appeal especially to this reviewer, there must certainly be an audience that eats this stuff up. The North Borders is a down-tempo feast of the aural doldroms: there’s plenty to get lost in, but it’s not very interesting.
MP3: Bonobo “Antenna”