Bonobo stays consistent with “The North Borders”

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Bonobo stays consistent with “The North Borders”

Erykah Badu opened with a DJ set for Bonobo at The Warfield on May 3.

Erykah Badu opened with a DJ set for Bonobo at The Warfield on May 3.

Erykah Badu opened with a DJ set for Bonobo at The Warfield on May 3.

Erykah Badu opened with a DJ set for Bonobo at The Warfield on May 3.

By Chris Henn

Erykah Badu opened with a DJ set for Bonobo at The Warfield on May 3.

Erykah Badu opened with a DJ set for Bonobo at The Warfield on May 3.

In DJ sets, producer Simon Green drops tracks by UK bass heavyweight Mosca and the up-and-coming Dauwd alongside his own material. When he put out a remixed version of his Black Sands album last year, the release included sophisticated acts like Cosmin TRG, Lapalux and FaltyDL. It’s clear that Green (better known as Bonobo) is mindful of some of the big names in current dance music. What’s odd, then, is how unaffected and singular his own sound remains nearly 13 years after his Animal Magic debut.

Bonobo released The North Borders this March. If you’ve heard any other Bonobo album, The North Borders isn’t going to be a surprise. And if you liked Bonobo’s previous material, chances are you’ll enjoy The North Borders too. The album starts with “First Fires”, a progressive and synthy opening ordeal instantly reminiscent of “If You Stayed Over (feat. Fink)” off Bonobo’s earlier album Days to Come. More guest vocals are sprinkled throughout The North Borders to similar effect as previous collabs (including Erykah Badu’s soulful voice on “Heaven For The Sinner.”)

On “Know You,” Green makes use of a house-trope-turned-mainstream pitched vocal effect, an style that can now be found everywhere from Burial to Disclosure tracks. Alongside one of Bonobo’s older songs, the vocals in “Know You” stand out as a modern touch among otherwise averse stylistic choices. But even then, the effect is toned down and overpowered by the strings that are so representative of Bonobo’s music.

Playing at The Warfield in San Francisco recently, Green manned a laptop and a few controllers to perform adaptations of tracks off The North Borders. Similar to his Black Sands tour, Green was backed by live drums, horns, and strings, as well as two vocalists. The show was technically impressive, and initially full of energy after a mismatched but generally well-received opening DJ set by Erykah Badu (operating with a DJ Low Down under the alias Loretta Brown.) But as the time went on after Bonobo took the stage, the show suffered from the same formulaic familiarity as the album itself. The live musicians did little in the way of improvisation—a missed opportunity to set the live show apart from simply being a visual album listening.

It’s hard to find a real flaw with The North Borders, but it certainly isn’t a memorable album. Green’s sound hasn’t evolved nearly as much as, say, Four Tet’s has in recent years. On one hand listeners might criticize Bonobo’s music for being stale and forgettable (“His music literally makes me feel like I’m in a yuppie coffee shop or yoga studio or something.”) But if you’re a Bonobo fan already, that’s might just be a testament to his unwaveringly consistent quality.