Vocals have always played an integral part in the work of Britain’s Simon Green, better known as Bonobo. Not necessarily to convey any message, as often the voices arrive from archived audio footage (2000’s “Dinosaurs”), but to add another dimension of humanity atop his organic jazz-electronica fusion. While the producer’s younger output embraced the DJ Shadow approach of sampling dusty vinyl dialogues, The North Borders now finds Green secure enough in his craft to command the talents of his guest vocalists and create emotional harmonics.
Borrowing a move from fellow downtempo beatsmith Flying Lotus, Green enlisted the support of Erykah Badu and her signature neo-soul to fortify “Heaven for the Sinner”. Breaking the form of his common linear production style, beneath the melodic Badu overdubs cleverly rests a sporadic series of 8-bit synths. This quirky synth work flows over to “Towers” (feat. Szjerdene). Employed just for Szjerdene’s second chorus, the digital chirps are a shimmery gem within the song’s otherwise depressive facade — much like that mysterious quality that keeps Szjerdene stuck in relationship rife with lies.
On the spacious post-dubstep of “Sapphire” it’s the distant echoes of a cellular ring that build contrast and texture against the spiritual female vocals. Generally void of the gamelan and middle-eastern influences of 2010’s Black Sands, it’s these subtle production elements that instill Green’s character amid the repetitive nature of chillout.
A talented multi-instrumentalist — who plays everything from bass to harp and harmonium — with vocals absent, Green showcases his after hours dance floor credibility on “Cirrus” and “Ten Tigers”. As exceptional as Green is behind the production table and DJ console, however, one hopes that he’s wise enough to give The North Borders the full-band treatment it deserves on the road.
Essential Tracks: “Cirrus”, “Heaven for the Sinner”, and “Towers”