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The North Borders
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The North Borders is the fifth studio album from iconic Ninja Tune artist Bonobo, and features appearances from Erykah Badu, Grey Reverend, Szjerdene and Cornelia.
The North Borders features a careful balance between vocal tracks and instrumentals, ensuring that the productions themselves get room to breathe and shine. When Simon Green (Bonobo) discovered that he and Erykah Badu shared a mutual appreciation for each other’s work, he leapt at the chance to collaborate. The resultant ‘Heaven for the Sinner’ is one of the album’s triumphs, a transcendental, incanted vocal masterclass married to a brilliant two-step glitch and a yearning melody.
NYC folk underdog Grey Reverend appears on album opener 'First Fires,' providing a raw, emotion-laid-bare growl that sets the tone for an album that's joyously unselfconscious. Bonobo has a long history of unearthing new talent, Black Sands having launched the solo career of guest vocalist Andreya Triana. The North Borders sees him do so once again. The startling, ethereal vocals of new collaborator Szjerdene are sprinkled across the album, and Green has yet again found the perfect voice to express where he's at. ‘Transits’ sees her vocal weave around a garage beat that’s somehow fragile and purposeful all at once, a gradually emerging hook rising from the depths of the song.
‘Emkay’ is a stunning example of the album’s marriage of addictive, urban-inflected drums to rise-and-swell melody that never fails to move the listener. Opening single ‘Cirrus’ sees a clockwork-precise rhythm drive a chiming, insistent melody that builds to one of the record’s great emotional climaxes. This is where Green excels; he knows how to invest electronic music with immense feeling.
Stunning cover artwork by Leif Podhajsky.
Electronic artists bringing organic warmth to their recordings are not so few and far between as black-and-white mindsets about "real" music might believe.
The days of computer-generated sounds being the stuff of sci-fi soundtracks and cult, collectors-item releases are, of course, long gone. Bonobo is one of many artists capable of crafting a widescreen and wholly organic-sounding world – and the British producer’s fifth full-length is a worthy successor to his celebrated 2010 set Black Sands.
Like its predecessor, The North Borders comprises tracks of a relatively down-tempo disposition: easy listening for those who’ve reached the dazed dawn after a wild night out.
That’s not to say they lack for movement, as the skipping momentum of cuts like Know You and Emkay – the latter a partner in its percussive patterns to Black Sands’ Andreya Triana-starring Eyesdown – prove. Lead single Cirrus is evocative of Four Tet’s chiming edge-of-the-dancefloor numbers, a track that’d sit pretty in any warm-up DJ’s set, gently coaxing bodies into motion.
And like Black Sands, Bonobo – real name Simon Green – invites a host of vocalists to sing atop a handful of his early-hours arrangements. Closer Pieces, with Cornelia, is a sweet combination of popping beats and almost child-like vocals, something like Woodpecker Wooliams joining Nosaj Thing for a transatlantic chill out.
First Fires, with Grey Reverend, could be mistaken for a James Blake number at distance – though its sumptuous strings might feel a little incongruous in the Mercury Prize nominee’s average mix.
The highest-profile guest is Erykah Badu, whose turn on Heaven for the Sinner is expectedly immediate yet extraterrestrial. Nobody does Badu like Badu, and long may that continue.
The North Borders isn’t a giant step onwards for its maker – rather, it feels like a very natural extension of Black Sands, with everything pitched just that little bit better, each arrangement sparkling a touch more. It’s incremental progression – notable but, in the grand scheme, not revelatory.
But Bonobo’s not an artist of grandstanding statements. He’s too experienced for that. These songs are perfect in their pigeonhole: to his established audience, wide as it is, they’ll be warmly welcomed, and those who see electronic music as the enemy are recommended to spend some time with it. Cold and calculated, soullessly synthetic, this is not.
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Top Customer Reviews
For me, Black Sands, Days to Come, Animal Magic and Dial M for Monkey had all exuded the particular style of down-tempo beats and soothing rhythms that made me a fan of Bonobo in the first place. Nothing could really top Black Sands for me - the logical conclusion and ultimate refinement of Bonobo's style.
It was with some trepidation that I approached this album wondering whether he'd played it safe, or had veered into a different style and lost that signature sound. Thankfully however, a fine balance between the two has been found; the album has a slightly edgier, more upbeat sound to it, bringing a freshness that was needed. I know most Bonobo fans would recoil if I were to mention dubstep in this review, and the album does not contain a dubstep track, but the beats on certain tracks have a post-dubstep sound to them (I'm not talking wub wub here, I'm talking basic beat), borrowing from Burial slightly in the use of samples and timing. It's a slightly more digital sounding album than previous efforts but fuller in vitality.
For these reasons I can understand why someone looking for a continuation of classic Bonobo could be disappointed, but I see it as an exciting new direction. If I've startled any devotees in my description do not panic - the changes are slight and the overall sound is unmistakably Bonobo but he hasn't been constrained by the niche that he's calved himself. It stands alongside Black Sands and not above it, which is surely no bad thing.
While this album does contain elements of that (particularly the sublime Antenna) it's clear that Simon Green is subtley trying to seque a little into the more mainstream arena. While this is probably a good move for him commercially I hope he stays true to his roots and sticks to the downtempo sounds that have made his name up to now.
I also have to say that this is the first Bonobo album which contains tracks that I actively dislike. The mix for the track with Erykah Badu just doesn't sound right to me, it's almost as if the vocals have been tacked onto an instrumental track so they could have a big name appear on the album. It does eventually settle down half way through but it's a surprising misstep for an artist that normally mixes his tracks perfectly.
Perhaps I need to listen to it more (I was also initially slightly disappointed with Black Sands - before loving it) but the album doesn't really feel like it flows to me yet. More a collection of disparate ideas rather than a fully formed album.
There is certainly enough here to make this worth a purchase but I'd have to say this is not the masterpiece that his last two albums were. I hope that time (and lots more playthroughs) changes my mind.
With Black Sands the logical epitome of the sound he'd created, what came next was always going to have to follow a slightly different route, else always play second fiddle. The North Borders sensibly does mark a modest departure from the prior formula, largely via the use of differing rhythms. At the same time, it also also marks a return to the more sequenced structure of earlier work, in contrast to Black Sands' more organic feel.
Does it work? Up to a point. Technically, it's flawlessly assembled, but it's proving lighter on the emotional melodic hooks that earlier work always snared me with, and it was that ability to never fail to deliver that had Si Green up on my musical pedestal. The fella's only human, and to my ears, this album represents the first slight misstep. That's not to say there is not some very high quality here, but where present it's diluted by a (shock! horror!) skippable track or two (naming no names, Erykah & Cornelia...), and thus the collection is not quite the accustomed vintage of yore.
There's a possibility that my review here may be a little hasty. A couple of instantly-liked tracks aside, Black Sands took quite a while to grow on me, before eventually realising it was one of the best* albums in my vast eclectic collection. Off the back of that, how could any new Bonobo album realistically measure up, initially at least?Read more ›
Black Sands is my favourite Bonobo album, and one of my most listened to albums of all time. With The North Borders, it seems as though Bonobo has taken a step away from the complex, more instrument driven sound of Black Sands and pursued a stripped back, house-y type feel. It's not bad by any strech, just not the direction I was hoping he would push his music.
I would recommend this album as it's a good listen, but it harks more back to his earlier 'Dial M for Monkey' work rather than his more recent sound.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Another great album by bonobo. Added to the collection with the rest. Amazing talent.Published 1 month ago by Mr. Mark A. Bullers
Love Bonobo. Don't enjoy this quite as much as the early stuff, but it's still very ace, and a lot more polished/better produced.Published 8 months ago by Jane
A must! Wear your headphones for a journey of relaxing but stimulating music!!Published 9 months ago by Denise