Album Review: Bonobo (Migration)

Written by on 21st January 2017

The pronunciation of Bonobo’s name (is it BoNObo or BOnobo?) is not the only disagreement surrounding his music; placing him musically involves serious contention between fans. Wikipedia lists him as electronica, trip-hop, acid jazz, chillwave, downtempo and soul; contrasting selections that are definitely all representative of his music. Bonobo’s musical selling point is the way in which he seamlessly combines these genres to produce his music. The latest instalment, Migration, is no exception.

Upon hearing that we were to be treated to a new Bonobo album I instantly delved into his selection of compilations and mixes. Through them I began to recognise where his unique sound has originated and developed from. The selection of tracks involved in each mix encapsulates his sound so perfectly and intricately. The Late Night Tales released in 2013 is a prime example of this; from jazz to brass band to Benedict Cumberbatch’s audio books, it’s all on there. Despite the contrasting music, it all works so perfectly. Not only that, but delving into any of the artists included on the album holds the possibility of discovering a brilliant new talent. His Essential Mix and NTS Radio shows follow suit, offering such an eclectic mix of music with each song blending so perfectly with the next. The music he creates feels like he’s taken one of these compilations and just layered all the songs over the top of each other, creating his own unique sound.

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Many musicians like to develop their sound from album to album, but Bonobo has formed such a unique sound for himself, he often stays within the parameters of it. Migration however, feels as if he is trying to break away, and struggling to do so. In parts of the album, Bonobo stays faithful to his sound, but in others it feels as if he is trying to extend it into a new realm. I don’t dislike the harsh lead synths and heavy drum beats of ‘Outlier’ but contrasted against the light, airy sounds of ‘Grains’, it feels like the album is trying to pull in two directions at once. Again, on ‘Bambro Koyo Ganda’ the heavy bass section and traditional Moroccan sounds don’t meld together, creating a sense that there’s two things being attempted at once. These factors combine to create a feeling that there is something missing with the album, a distinct layer that is just not there.

That’s not to say I dislike the album at all however, there are moments of distinct beauty throughout. ‘Kerala’, the first single to be released, is engrossing; the enthralling thrum of the voices build up to a crescendo before the typically Bonobo drumbeat returns, creating a drop that you didn’t think could exist in such a song. The closing track, ‘Figures’, is a six-minute journey through broken, sporadic voices accompanied by piano through to a beautiful string arrangement as the album closes. The title track, ‘Migration’, gradually develops from pulsing engine-like electronic sounds into a sweetly harmonic combination of piano, drums and strings. These tracks performed with a live orchestra on his tour will make an experience that won’t be soon forgotten.

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The album features a host of guest vocalists. Rhye and Nicole Miglis’ vocals on ‘Break Apart’ and ‘Surface’ (respectively), expertly meld with Bonobo’s recognisable sound, providing another dimension. However, Innov Gnawa and Nick Murphy on ‘Bambro Koyo Ganda’ and ‘No Reason’ (respectively), float distinctly over the top of the tracks not blending in, perhaps indicating where he is trying to develop his sound. Despite this, they are both encapsulating in their own way, Nick Murphy’s vocals make ‘No Reason’ catchier and more memorable than any of Bonobo’s previous music. The vocal additions on ‘Bambro Koyo Ganda’, and ‘Surface’ for that matter, add a dimension to the song that begs for them to be remixed into a deep house club tune.

Migration is a captivating and beautiful new addition to Bonobo’s musical catalogue. The album clearly marks a step in his career where he is attempting to extend his sound into a new arena. In parts this is successful and the music created is enchanting and soothing; in others, it creates a dissonance and a sense of something missing. Despite this, Migration is still an exceptional album should be considered a bold move forward in Bonobo’s development.

Buy the album HERE

Catch Bonobo on tour HERE

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