Album Review: Bonobo | Black Sands

Originally published in Time Out Chicago magazine | 04.01.10




jazz \ jaz \ n + chill•out \ chil-aût \ vb

Since Bonobo’s early days dishing 45s for Brighton’s Tru Thoughts label, he’s had a penchant for cinematic downtempo. Seconds into his latest opus, it’s tempting to assume he’s reaching inside his usual bag of tricks; from start to finish, Black Sands impeccably maintains the aural aesthetic he’s worked so hard to fine-tune since his 2000 debut.

But a closer listen reveals a subtle development, one that’s been a long time in the making. Where he once employed clever production techniques and the odd guest instrumentalist, now Bonobo’s Simon Green has access to a full live band, including a string section, the improvisation-prone drumming of Jack Baker and a batch of horns ranging from trumpet to clarinet. Green has taken full advantage of his newfound creative freedom without losing sight of the rich soundscapes that have pushed him to the fore of Ninja Tune’s artist roster.

Lead single “Eyesdown” perfectly marks his graduation from bedroom producer to bona-fide artist and bandleader. Dusty crackling disguises live Rhodes piano as if lifted straight off a vintage recording. Layer by layer, drums, a sub bass murmur and plucked strings provide the foundation for Andreya Triana’s silky vocal riffing.

Green’s trip-hop roots shine with the midtempo warmth of “All in Forms.” A head-nodder that rivals anything from Mo’ Wax’s heyday, it sinks a nondescript vocal sample deep into the production as distorted funk guitar, rolling drums and cymbal splashes swell up around it. In the waltzing Gypsy jazz of “Black Sands,” the plucked acoustic guitar and introspective clarinet melody recall strolling along the beach of some foreign seaside, with waves of trumpet and saxophone crashing at our feet. If we had to pick a soundtrack to brighten up these early days of spring, Black Sands would be it.


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