Estranged familiarity: Bonobo’s Migration reviewed

Words Oisin Fogarty Graveson  

Bonobo Migration Review

Aptly titled, Bonobo’s sixth studio album is all about the changing of place. “How one person will take an influence from one part of the world and move with that influence and affect another part of the world.”

There’s something familiar about all this. Simon Green’s (AKA Bonobo) style — the chiming lead synths, gentle plucking of Eastern instruments and crunchy bass pads — has been honed over the course of his six album journey, inspiring artists like Wiz Khalifa, Skrillex, Disclosure, Diplo and Warpaint along the way. In Migration it rears its head again and the flawless digital production of 16 years in the game stands back-to-back with the live instrumentals that first made their appearance on stage with Bonobo’s band in 2014. But that’s where the familiarity ends. Underneath the dynamic exterior of ‘Bonobo-ness’, Migration has a sense of unfamiliarity about it: something out of place.

Migration has a clockwork-like glitch, a rhythmic flutter which permeates every track like digital birds flying south for the winter.

Simple, child-like bliss leaks from the opening of the third track ‘Outlier’. Early memory sounds of a music box collide with the sharp clack of that same box closing over and over again. Low-bitrate noise, a telephone ringing, a chiming glitch, synths like city traffic – the world’s we’re born into replaced by worlds we find ourselves grown up in. While we may take influence from places we’ve been, into places we’re going, it’s unfortunately not possible the other way around. Green asks: “Is home where you are or where you are from, when you move around?”

Like The North Borders before it, Migration’s melodically minor moods are kept from melancholia by upbeat rhythms, orchestral movements and, most importantly, space in the mix Every instrument has its own space and that’s what stops Green’s big tracks from becoming stifling. They become thoughtful, and even cheerfully dance-worthy at points with the poppy vocals in ‘No Reason’ and house-style kick of ‘7th Sevens’ leading that charge. The similarity to previous albums juxtaposed with new techniques like vocal filtering and stylistic stuttering make for a sensation of crumbling familiarity. A place misremembered..

Green’s latest journey isn’t a dark one, but there’s definitely something to think about along the way. The first single that Bonobo released from this record, ‘Kerala’, came accompanied with a video of a woman on the run from a surreal universe, trapped in a merciless reversed loop. Hypnotic, it set the tone of the record outright as one which requires repeat attention if you’re going to catch all the tricks that Bonobo’s learnt since his emergence in 2001. On first listen, it’s the familiar world of Bonobo. But Migration is a record that will open further and further the more you listen to it. Moving from place to place, giving more every time yet never quite the same, Migration takes Bonobo to its logical conclusion. By expanding upon the known and deconstructing into the unknown at the same time.

Migration drops on Friday January 13th.
You can pre-order today at BoomKat, Bleep or your local record store.