Bonobo: Migration | Album Review

On Migration, Simon Green, the man behind Bonobo, achieves his best work to date. Migration manages to both refine the sound that Green has developed over his previous five albums, while also sounding like a coherent album that conveys deep and ambiguous emotions. While the album’s title evokes one of the weightiest geopolitical phenomena of our age, Migration is ultimately a deeply personal affair.

Sonically, Migration strips back the orchestral tendencies and heavy, smooth production work of Bonobo’s last album. The Northern Borders swapped the warm production and propulsive jazz and afrobeat influenced rhythms that had driven Bonobo’s best work for a very clean sound. Strings and synths were foregrounded as the driving forces of songs creating a grander, more orchestral feel. While Migration retains some of that grandeur, it is a more sophisticated album. Refocusing on propulsive beats and making sparing use of full orchestration, Green manages to keep the expansive sound of The Northern Borders but strips back to foliage to leave the bare, raw essentials. All in all, this leaves room for Migration to call on a wider range of intensity, giving the album some subtlety. Along with dropping traditional pop-song structures, this allows songs to develop under their own logic, while still cohering with the sound built over the album.

Perhaps the best example of this refinement can be seen on the single Kerala. Rather than bringing in a neo-soulesque feature that typified the vocals on previous work, Green has sampled Brandy’s track Baby. The vocals are chopped up and looped into a wordless chant. This works incredibly well, giving a raw edge to an otherwise very cleanly produced track. While the Brandy sample has, perhaps predictably, gained the most attention, a Pete Seeger sample on the track Grains works just as well. More melancholic that Kerala, Grains uses a similar sampling technique to layer the Seeger’s voice into a hymn like chant over drum, synth and guitar backing that builds and fades in cycles working toward a euphoric conclusion.

No Reason, featuring vocals from Nick Murthy (the artist formerly known as Chet Faker) is a seven-and-a-half minute slice of spaced-out pop. The heavy synths featuring on the track and relatively stripped back beat make it ripe for remixing for a club setting. Of all the tracks on the album though, Bambro Koyo Ganda featuring the New-York based Moroccan band Innov Gnawa is perhaps the most dance-floor ready, with a heavy bassline and four on the floor rhythm. Overall though, Migration stays away from try to being a dance music end of electronica. Appropriately enough given the album’s title, the most dance floor ready tracks on the album serve to give the album a sense propulsion, never settling down in to one rhythm or mood for too long across tracks.

As ever with Bonobo, Migration manages to steer clear of becoming elevator muzak. Equally the album keeps away from the sugar-fix rush of pop-tronica bands like Odesza. Instead, Migration manages to immerse the listener in a world of sound. What’s more this world of sound feels like one that you can inhabit, where the story is not already given to you, as with The Northern Border. However, careful track listing and an unconventional song structure keep the listener slightly displaced, always on the move between one feeling and another. For an album called Migration, this experience really could not be more appropriate.

You can purchase Migration here.

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