- Since his downtempo heyday in the early 2000s, Simon Green, AKA Bonobo, has grown from a trip-hop follower into a leader of smoky, twilit house music. His colourful and wide-ranging DJ sets have made him a festival favourite (catch him at sunset for the full effect). His productions, plush with horn and string arrangements and often accompanied by vocals, have earned him a regular place on the playlists of many electronic music fans.
Migration is Green's sixth album. It comes after a move to California, and finds him at the height of his popularity after his last album, The North Borders. As far as this stuff goes, that one was a home run. The rhythms were built with a beatmaker's inventiveness, the arrangements were wonderful and the guest spots spirited. Migration, on the other hand, feels like a holding pattern. It keeps Bonobo afloat without doing anything new that might alienate fans. In that sense, it's like a faded photocopy of its predecessor, with hints of what made it great along with a lot of grainy grey.
There's a groggy feel to Migration that doesn't lift until its closing stretch. It makes for a pleasantly drifting opening section, through the drowsy title track and Pete Seeger's layered vocal samples on "Grains." But that sleepiness also extends to the drum programming, which feels limp where it could've been boisterous. Green uses the same found-sound percussion as on The North Borders, but here the drums land with a lifeless plop, like stones into wet clay.
"Outlier," named for Green's club night and radio show, has all the hallmarks of a DJ set closer—slowly blooming progression, synth workouts, eight-minute duration—but it's stuck at a simmer. The first single, "Kerala," with its audacious Brandy sample, seems unnecessarily restrained. The disappointing "Bambro Koyo Ganda" takes a powerful performance from Morrocan band Innov Gnawa and makes it feel humdrum. The other guest appearances are just as underwhelming. Nicole Miglis is forgettable on "Surface," while Nick Murphy (formerly known as Chet Faker) over-emotes on the syrupy "No Reason." Even Rhye, whose brand of quiet storm R&B should have fit Bonobo like a glove, blends into the anonymous gossamer background of "Break Apart."
In the three-plus years between The North Borders and Migration, Green started a residency at Output in New York, and took his club night around the world, cementing his status as a stellar DJ. In that way, Migration brings to mind Four Tet's There Is Love In You, another album by an electronica star that made hesitant steps towards the dance floor (inspired by Kieran Hebden's residency at Plastic People). But Migration sticks stubbornly to its comfort zone, unable to escape the cocoon of The North Borders.
Green's music hasn't gotten any less listenable this time around, but that doesn't make it interesting. As its title implies, Migration was meant to be about Green's experience moving to a new home and traveling around the world. But rather than taking his sound anywhere, Migration stays put.
02. Break Apart feat. Rhye
05. Second Sun
06. Surface feat. Nicole Miglis
07. Bambro Koyo Ganda feat. Innov Gnawa
10. No Reason feat. Nick Murphy
11. 7th Sevens