Written by Adam DeRoss
While everyone has his or her own views and tastes in the music world, it’s universal that music carries emotion. Some songs make you feel sad, some pump you up for a workout and others are simply neutral for studying or busy work. When listening to the compositions of Simon Green, better known by his DJ name Bonobo, calm and somber seems to be the prevalent theme.
Bonobo debuted in 1999 and since then has produced six studio albums incorporating a variety of genres including downtempo, chillwave and trip-hop. His most recent record “Migration” was released on Jan. 13 and preserves the trance-like qualities Bonobo is known for. It’s a lengthy album that provides a lot of relaxing melodies. However, while the content is familiar and still very enjoyable, Green hasn’t done much to innovate or make this record any better than those previously released.
The tracks on this record are all very long, ranging on average between five and seven minutes. While this gives them a lot of room to provide interesting melodies and concepts, most of that time is spent repeating a few very basic elements. That’s not to say the tracks aren’t well composed, as many of them feature harmonious instrumentation and some fitting vocals from various featured artists.
The three most interesting tracks on the record, “Bambro Koyo Gnawa” featuring Innov Gnawa, “Ontario” and “Figures,” represent what Bonobo can achieve at his best.
“Bambro Koyo Gnawa” is influenced by what sounds like various African cultural music selections. The track features echoed chants for vocals and incorporates melodic violins alongside clanging, metallic percussion. It also incorporates an intermittent clapping that drives the beat forward.
“Ontario” features a lot of progressions from various Asian and Middle Eastern stringed instruments. The backing bassline is not as heavily prevalent, allowing the chords and percussion to really shine through.
The best quality of “Figures” is its track panning on the clanking and stinted percussion interlaid with the wailing synth chords floating above them. The vocal samples are dreamy and captivating and they serve as a good complement to the rest of the instruments.
Despite their good qualities, the tracks are a little too long for how repetitive they get.
Some of the tracks on this record don’t have any interesting components whatsoever. An example would be the intro track “Migration.” At first, all that is audible is a very faint piano melody and the occasional chirping of birds. This goes on for about 90 seconds before more instruments like off-kilter cymbals and a bassline that steadily rises in pitch and volume enter. While it is just the intro track and may be meant to symbolize the beginning, it could have done more to be interesting. It doesn’t do enough to capture interest or attention for the content ahead.
“Grains” is another track that suffers from oversimplification. The melody remains relatively unchanged over the course of the entire four minute track and only introduces the more interesting elements of the song such as the percussion and strings about three quarters of the way through.
While Bonobo’s work is generally regarded as relaxing and captivating, that only goes so far. When artists begin to stagnate, the line is blurred between the new and the old to the point where the old and familiar is probably more worth listening to. “Migration” is still a relaxing and well-produced collection of ambient music, but so much of it sounds familiar that it doesn’t feel new. The record is by no means horrible, but Bonobo will have to innovate a bit more on his next release to avoid the loss of listeners.