Saturday, May 1, 2010

Black Sands - Bonobo

Black Sands

Ninja Tune Records.

SCQ Rating: 79%

In late 2008, I looked for a nostalgia trip in You Don’t Know, the triple-disc Ninja Tune compilation that sought to prove precisely what the title implied: that I didn’t know the scope and reach of the London-based imprint. Sadly, they were right (Pop Levi… really?). Before selling it last August, however, I pillaged what small discoveries I found worth keeping and, surprise-surprise, both Bonobo tracks made the cut. Whatever you call his craft, be it downtempo, nu-jazz or ugh… chill-out, Bonobo (AKA Simon Green) has stayed true to his aesthetic without straying from the indie-cool consciousness that abandoned trip-hop nearly a decade ago. How Green appears to have clung to crossover relevance all this time boils down to the same two-step strategy that vindicated The Cinematic Orchestra’s Ma Fleur in 2007: (1) reduce your output to a record every four years and (2) show your age.

Arriving four years after Days To Come, Black Sands carries the quiet majesty of an audiophile-engineered jazz record, enunciating rich tones of brass and wind instruments in fusion with deftly programmed electronic beats. Sounds familiar, right? No doubt, the fact that so many of Bonobo’s contemporaries (or in some cases, copycats) have fallen off the map does instill his style with a renewed purpose, filling a genre-hole as if it’s a public service, but the critical step in remaining prominent will always be evolution. A quick listen to Black Sands will identify only the dated labels I’ve listed above, while its progressive genius hides in the countless details that unveil themselves upon closer listening. Take the brisk IDM slices and Burial-esque vocal-sampling that plays over ‘1009’’s sorrowful strings, or the island-rhythms that throw ‘We Could Forever’ into an unbalanced groove. How about those loose hip-hop beats that lay ‘Kong’ in an early-evening summer haze, and the dull but grimey saw effect that evokes a slow-motion nightclub beneath the breezy haze of ‘Eyesdown’? Offering no shortage of subtle embellishments I long to salute, Black Sands is the opposite of background muzik and requires a patient ear.

Granted, there are moments on record that suggest Green might be taking all of us on another nostalgia trip. In its smooth bass and lite-jazz arrangement, ‘El Toro’ opens like an AM radio intermezzo while the vocal contributions of Andreya Triana sound dangerously close to Zero 7 (and by Zero 7, I mean 2001). These backward glances are merely showing the roots from which Bonobo has risen, from the ashes of chill-out into a sophisticated ambassador of jazz and electronica. Black Sands is more than Green’s finest album, it’s the culmination of all trip-hop’s forgotten promise and, if tracks like ‘Kiara’ and ‘Animals’ don’t land on the next label compilation, it’s possible that no one will know Ninja Tune.

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