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Bonobo - Topic

Dial 'M' for Monkey Play

Simon Green's Bonobo project may not have the respect of discriminating, forward-thinking electronica fans, but his melody-driven downbeat pop is no less interesting for its lack of processing power -- in fact, Dial "M" for Monkey is more intriguing for its focus on discernible melodies as well as experimental samples. Green's second proper Bonobo album is a model of structure and economy; though he uses just a few elements for each song and rarely varies the rhythm, the results are always compelling listening. Breakbeats power most of these tracks, befitting its release on Ninja Tune, though much like labelmate Fog, Green's interests don't lie in hip-hop or even trip-hop; his influences encompass alternative rock ("Something for Windy" is reminiscent of the Cure) and world music (are those Indonesian gamelan bells driving "D Song" or something from a children's toy?). ~ John Bush, Rovi

Animal Magic Play

At first repulsive and overbrewed, Animal Magic slowly takes shape as a solid debut of narcoleptic down tempo. Which isn't too surprising: Bonobo's Simon Green is known for making friends with intelligent electronic adventurers Mr. Scruff and Amon Tobin, and choosing a moniker after a species of chimpanzee Chris Morris made famous. In fact, his fusion of encouraging trip-hop, helium voices, and sitars probably isn't the quickest way to get you humming in the bath. But intimation is rarely used in pop music, and when it's put up against an uncharacteristically emotional pallor ("Kota," "Sugar Rhyme"), you're rewarded for your patience. If you hear Lionrock's hypnogogic avant-splatter or the solar affection of Air, that's because Green shares their use of textural organics in the middle of low-key electronic mood music. Although the result is not as colorful as Lemon Jelly, or as amusing as Bent, there's a balance that's just as effective, using the power of suggestion instead of cleverness to avoid the pitfalls of so much half-realized, barely aware chill-out that's always been in the market ironically fighting so fiercely for attention. ~ Dean Carlson, Rovi

Black Sands Play

Laid-back London groove maestro Simon Green (alias Bonobo) returns after a considerable absence (on the recording front, at least) with this fourth full-length helping of his masterfully mellow monkey magic. While it's not terribly divergent from the future-jazz cut-ups that made his earlier efforts such an instinctively natural fit with the turn-of-the-century Ninja Tune stable, Black Sands evidences a clear evolution into a more distinctive, sophisticated, and complex style, resulting in his most musically adventurous work to date, and certainly his most modern-sounding. Green's clearly been keeping his ear to the ground for a bit of rhythmic reinvigoration: the immediately striking "Kiara" reworks the hauntingly elegant string refrain that opens the album with submerged vocal splices and a halting, head-nodding left-field hip-hop beat á la relative Ninja Tune newcomer Flying Lotus, while cuts like the "Eyesdown" and "All in Forms" shade subtly toward the dubstep diaspora. Elsewhere, "We Could Forever" is a funky Afro-Latin workout riding an infectiously crisp guitar riff, and the scruffy, swing-inflected breakbeats that dominated Bonobo's earlier output crop up again on "Kong" and "El Toro." But while the grooves here serve quite nicely (and keep things consistently varied), it's the lush layers of unmistakably live instrumentation laid on top -- most of it played by Green himself -- that make the album really soar. That's especially true on the two closing cuts, both stretching toward seven minutes, which eschew electronics almost entirely and feel more than anything like dense, moody, compositionally intricate modern jazz. At the other end of Black Sands' polychromatic though tonally consistent spectrum are a clutch of cuts featuring the rather blandly breezy vocals of Andreya Triana -- silky smooth electro-samba ("Wonder When") and neo-soul ("The Keeper") that make for more than passable mood fodder but can't quite match the musical inventiveness displayed elsewhere (though Green does weave her vocals quite deftly among the clustered woodwinds and sparse stutter-step of "Eyesdown.") For a style of electronica (chillout/downtempo) that's grown decidedly dusty over the past decade -- even though Bonobo is clearly striving to move well beyond such staid genre divisions, and in many ways succeeding, that's probably still the best place to slot him if you gotta -- Black Sands is a welcome infusion of life and warmth. ~ K. Ross Hoffman, Rovi

The North Borders Play

On his 2013 release The North Borders, British producer Simon Green (aka Bonobo) continues along the organic-meets-electronic path that his 2010 release Black Sands followed, but this walk takes place as it's turning to dusk, and there are varying degrees of mist and chilliness along the way. Opener "First Fires" with Grey Reverend (singer/songwriter L.D. Brown) sounds like it could be quite warm, but it's entirely autumn-minded sweater music that wistfully wonders what to do with "faded dreams" as Green allows bits of glitchy sunlight to shine through his cloudy synth construction. "Emkay" is the clangs and echoes of a seaside port at night that wonderfully shuffles its way up to a lighthouse tune, then there's majestic songstress Erykah Badu wonderfully vibing ("We don't need no truth/Got plenty/Now it grows on trees") on "Heaven for the Sinner" over Bonobo's deep version of the broken beat. "Towers" suggests sleepy urban buildings in twilight with a vibraphone representing the little bits of life and light that will sparkle through the night, while "Don't Wait" is just before the dawn, as innocent chimes chase away the eerie things that lurk in the darkness. Still, it's not all drifting as the great "Know You" drops a jazzy breakbeat while the high stepper "Ten Tigers" struts to something sounding like an inverted handclap, although there's little here that will make sleeping cats jump off the couch. Fine song structure and an overall album flow that's nearly perfect are things Bonobo regulars might expect at this point, but his discography hasn’t offered up a rainy day soundtrack so fitting until this one, so hope the weatherman has bad news and plan on staying in. ~ David Jeffries, Rovi

Black Sands Remixed Play

Simon Green (aka Bonobo) has always blazed his own trail through the jungle of electro-dance scenes and genres, and if his experiments and musings have sometimes fallen a bit flat, it's never been for want of creative ideas. His 2010 release, Black Sands, was very warmly received (partly because it came after a long layoff), and this excellent compilation of remixed tracks from that album should be even more successful. The remix artists come from all over the stylistic map: Falty DL is here, as are Machine Drum, Duke Dumont, and Banks, among others. Interestingly, four contributors chose to remix the same track ("Eyesdown") and the results are all intriguing: Floating Step lends the tune a subtly two-steppy beat and mixes down Triana's smoky vocals; MC Dels adds a layer of rapping; Arp 101 renders the tune almost unrecognizable, creating a booming dubstep atmosphere; Machine Drum turns the track into uptight jungle dub. Other highlights include Falty DL's eerily gorgeous take on "All in Forms," the slippery dub funk of Cosmin TRG's remix of "Tiara," and Duke Dumont's soft and ambient mix of "Black Sands," which closes the album. The program also includes two brand-new tracks by Bonobo himself ("Ghost Ship" and the beautiful "Brace Brace"). If anything, this remix collection is even better than the original album -- and the original album was pretty great. ~ Rick Anderson, Rovi

One Offs Remixes & B-Sides Play

Simon Green's debut single and subsequent Animal Magic album for Tru Thoughts drew the attention of such heavyweights as XL and Mute, though it was his eventual defection to Ninja Tune and the subsequent reissue of the long-player that brought him to the attention of the masses. This interim offering preempted his sophomore album for Ninja and sees his original label collate an album of his work as both a remixer and remixee, opening with his take of Stuart Cullen's sublime "Turtle," with Green wisely retaining its signature whistle while rounding off the beats a little and throwing in some gentle keyboard parts for more flavor. Thoughts compadres Quantic and Jon Kennedy get a look in, though it's Green's own work which receives the props; the inclusion of the singles "Dismantling Frank," "The Sicilian," "Magicman," and "Scuba" only reinforce a great album that works in its own right. ~ Kingsley Marshall, Rovi
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