Beginning with Simon Green’s debut under the Bonobo moniker, 2000’s Animal Magic, right through to his latest, the new Migration, his calling has been clear: he’s made it his mission to create hazy, flowing music that’s equal parts subtle and rich, with an organic feel that is the result of layering live instrumentation over his samples and electronics. Ever since, he’s been reaching for an idealized version of that template, towards a thoughtful style that both soothes and resonates. His path towards that rarefied goal, however, hasn’t exactly been a straight line.
The early work of the Brighton, U.K. artist (now based in LA) was an occasionally somber, sporadically lithe and often jazzy take on trip-hop and related downtempo sounds—Animal Magic was released a particularly fertile time for that style of music, in the wake of albums like Cinematic Orchestra’s Motion and Nightmares On Wax’s magnificent Carboot Soul. His mid-period releases, like 2006’s Days to Come or 2010’s Black Sands, both refined the beats and accentuated his music’s lushness. 2013’s The North Borders, while certainly as elegant as any of his output to date, was something of a let-down, with Green edging away from the lost-in-the-fog aura of his best work towards a more conventional sound, with an almost traditional approach to songwriting embedded within its skittering rhythms. But Migration is an intricate, fine-tuned return to form, one that both soothes and thrills.
The theme of the album, Green has stated, is in the title: “It’s interesting how one person will take an influence from one part of the world and move with that influence and affect another part of the world. Over time, the identities of places evolve.” A vague, somehow enriching sense of dislocation permeates the album; the result is a dreamlike quality running throughout, an aura that’s evident from the first few bars of the title track. Leading off the album, “Migration” rounded eighth-note pulses anchor a lilting piano, plucking out a tune filled with yearning; coos and chords gradually fill the empty spaces, with syncopated, complex drum programming leading towards the song’s crescendo.
It’s delirious yet serene, and sets the tone for much of what follows: wistful, lullaby-esque melodies abound, with songs swimming in gentle arpeggios and swirling with diaphanous and gauzy textures, anchored by gently shuffling rhythms and a near-transparent low-end. With its tingling chord progression, sparkling keys and soaring surges—not to mention its wonderfully utilized Brandy sample—“Kerala” conveys a feel of warm uplift; “Break Apart,” featuring an insistent harp, melancholy horns, and ethereal vocals courtesy of Rhye’s Michael Milosh, is pure heartbreak.
Even at its most dynamic and dancefloor-oriented, there’s a chimera vibe to Migration. “No Reason” blankets the contemplative croon of Nick Murphy (the artist formerly known as Chet Faker) over a percolating synth and a steady, near-house cadence, while the dense “Outlier” features a brilliant passage two-thirds of the way through the track, when Green strips away the shimmer to reveal something akin to an acid-house workout. The rhythms, in another producer’s hands, would serve as the songs’ propulsive force—but even on these tougher numbers, they’re akin to latticework, serving a framework on which to hang spiraling ornamentation. Green’s always aimed for music that’s magical, for a sound that’s transcendent—with Migration, he’s come closer than ever.