On Friday 13 January, two universally-adored behemoths of modern music released albums. One was the xx. The other was Simon Green, also known as Bonobo. Migration, his sixth full-length studio album, the follow-up to 2013’s The North Borders, has been heavily anticipated by fans and critics alike. To some artists, an unrelenting culture of high expectations might have been so intimidating that they cannot possibly deliver, but thankfully this is not the case here.
The sparse, delicate title track opens the album with all the restraint and poignancy of Brian Eno. Unbeknownst to Bonobo, it serves an additional purpose to his fans sweating it out in Australia: as well as being a immaculate beginning to a very accomplished album, the song Migration is capable of cooling your core temperature by up to four degrees Celsius with twinkling snowy soundscapes and echoes of splitting ice.
Migration the album ebbs and flows, finding new pathways to build to an ethereal intensity informed by live world instrumentation and, according to Simon Green himself, “relationships with landscape, movements of culture, people and their effect on their environments as they move and settle within them.” Oscillating and chameleonic modular synth create a universe that is peaceful yet unpredictable, evoking a state of childlike wonder and introspection.
Surface is a clear favourite, doubtlessly one of the most radio-friendly cuts, with Nicole Miglis‘ clean, gossamer vocals washing effortlessly over Bonobo’s design. The glimmering, syncopated chorus is sheer radiant bliss. Ontario, savouring Eastern instrumentation, live violin and brass, and ultra-modern effects, stands out as an opulent tapestry of sound.
Rhye sounds very Post Tropical-era James Vincent McMorrow on Break Apart, not that that’s a bad thing. It’s a soulful, melancholic track that possesses the rare gift of drawing deep sadness from its listeners regardless of how happy their personal circumstances may be.
Downtempo as a genre is nigh unequivocally serene and beautiful, but can rely so heavily on repetition that it approaches dullness. Not the case here – there’s so much diversity in texture, mood, tempo that Migration feels like just that; a journey across varying wildernesses, from tepid jungles to icy tundras.
Bambro Koyo Ganda is propellant and rich, where Bonobo’s composition is spliced with call-and-response harmonies, clapping, and krakebs. The track features Innov Gnawa, the only NY-based collective who make gnawa, a spiritual Moroccan form of music that is used in healing rituals. It’s a stirring inclusion, a transcendental collaboration that, like Bonobo’s other efforts in conjunction with other artists here, is easily one of the best songs on the album.
In fact, the only vocal feature that nearly doesn’t meet the admittedly impossibly high bar set by every other, is No Reason – Bonobo’s collaboration with Nick Murphy (the Artist Formerly Known As Chet Faker). While still a strong track, one that very clearly has potential for fist-pumping remixes (yawn), in comparison to the rest of Migration, the simplicity and opaqueness of the track make it the lowlight of the album.
The classicism of Second Sun is heartbreaking and cinematic, a fitting soundtrack for a dramatic period piece; the undulating harp of Kerala seems better suited to a sunlit mid-afternoon plane ride. This is clearly not an album designed with a particular listening environment – or listener – in mind. It’s adaptable. There’s no “right”, and definitely no “wrong”, way to experience this album.
Crisp, precise and sophisticated, Migration is the sound of someone who has mastered his craft. After fifteen years, Green’s maturation and experimentation has led to the creation of what will likely be hailed as his magnum opus. Bonobo will tour across 21 US/EU/UK dates in support of the release, and those of us down under are resigned to wait however patiently we’re capable of before we get a chance to witness this splendour (ha?) in real life.