Bonobos, ‘Fragments’ | Album review | Seven days
(Ninja Tune, vinyl, CD, digital)
Bonobo’s new album, fragments, takes listeners in two directions: the dance floor and the adjoining lounge. It’s a bit of his modus operandi, which he has perfected since his beginnings at the turn of the century. The Los Angeles-based British-born electronic musician’s hypnotic grooves could inspire a crowd of sweaty, sweaty bodies to gather under strobes and lasers. Just as likely, the infusions of trip-hop, jazz, and exoticism found in his work make it easy to relax and melt into a velvet lounge chair.
In the 20-plus years that Simon Green has been making music under the moniker simian, he’s brought in equally cool artists to serve as vocals on his rippling compositions. Many guests have teamed up with Bonobo, including alt-R&B queen Erykah Badu and neo-soul singer-songwriter Andreya Triana, whose debut, Lost where I belong, Green product. If one thing connects the singers, it’s that they all land in a similar midpoint between serene and amplified.
fragments is a pandemic-era record that Green started when life went to hell in early 2020. Despite its name, the record is cohesive and flows through rivers of strings, synths, and club beats. It attracts a new generation of guest stars, including New Zealand talker Jordan Rakei (currently opening for Bonobo on tour) and artist-activist Jamila Woods. Beyond big-name collaborators, other tracks include samples from Triana, singer-songwriter Maxwell and Bulgarian choir 100 Kaba-Gaidi.
In the opening “Polyghost”, the plucked strings of harpist Lara Somogyi and the orchestral arrangements of composer Miguel Atwood-Ferguson give a slow revelation, like a curtain of pearls gradually drawn to reveal a luxurious sanctuary. The song’s final trill is a held breath that exhales as the beats and bass emerge over the Rakei-assisted “Shadows.”
The tracks on fragments exist under a mist, each arriving and evaporating so smoothly that they blend into an impressionistic cloudscape. But they sometimes crackle with jagged and metallic rhythms. With jerky beats, “Otomo” and “Age of Phase” both use disorienting vocal samples that have a similar punctuational quality.
“From You,” featuring Japanese-born chameleon R&B artist Joji, is a standout cut. Slow and syrupy, Joji’s vocals straddle a fuzzy bassline and wonky synths that underscore the song’s themes of uncertainty. As he repeats, Joji “fall from you” does not fall for you. Where it will land is unknown.
With seven full-length records, dozens of EPs and singles, plus remix albums and other compilations, like his 2013 addition to the Late Night Tales series, Green solidified himself as a mainstay of the chill-out genre. fragments is a satisfying listen from start to finish, whether you’re listening or not.
fragments is available at bonobomusic.bandcamp.com and all major streaming platforms. Bonobo performs Saturday, March 5 at the Higher Ground Ballroom in South Burlington. Jordan Rakei opens.