Music of the type created by London producer Simon Green (aka Bonobo) has become an over-saturated commodity. Chillwave and experimental future bass has been pushed to popular extremes – even Australia finally has its own poster child in Flume. Ten years ago, Green was a pioneer of this sound. In 2010 he pushed it with brave, eclectic experimentation to an extreme in his fourth LP, Black Sands.
After an album like that –a leap beyond a creative tipping point – it becomes hard to predict an artist’s next move. When does ‘forging ahead’ become counter-productive? Whether Green asked himself this may be determined later, but his fifth album, The North Borders, is confident, measured, masterful and seamless. It sounds like an artist so wholly at ease with himself that he is able, unpretentiously and unselfconsciously, to create the best music of his career.
Employing every signature tool – string arrangements, xylophones, harps, wind instruments, intricate percussion and syrupy fathomless bass – with the subtlety and understanding of a genre veteran with nothing to prove, Green has created a magnum opus of his genre. Two-step powerhouse Cirrus, glitch soul standout Heaven for the Sinner (featuring a characteristically haunting Erykah Badu), wandering bass-rich Ten Tigers, and the wholly unmissable anthemic opener First Fires are the tallest poppies, but this is a field of overachievers.
Listened to from start to finish, The North Borders becomes the best version of itself – a whole. The tracks between the peaks – Emkay, Sapphire, Jets, Don’t Wait, Antenna and others – tie together an ‘album’. Green steers from beat to beat with palpable intuition, never reaching into discomfiting or boisterous bridges to bring home a track.
Years of experience have lent Green’s fifth album an invaluable quality: it is a grower, rippling deeper and deeper from listen to listen. Without changing the game, The North Borders calmly and powerfully defines it.