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Bonobo - Black Sands

Bonobo, Black Sands

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4.5 out of 5

BONOBO’S fourth album Black Sands is, to all intents and purposes, something of a masterpiece. And that’s saying something for a collection of work that doesn’t entirely satisfy either!

At its finest, the LP showcases Simon Green’s masterful understanding of composition, frequently unfolding on a cinematic scale of jawdropping beauty.

Alas, in trying to make the album sometimes appear more commercially viable, he also sacrifices some of that beauty in favour of songs that fail to hit the same heights.

It’s an oddity… but one that doesn’t detract from an otherwise excellent piece of work. Don’t get me wrong, this is an album that really shouldn’t be missed!

Take opening track, Kiara – both the prelude and its full length version – as evidence of how Bonobo gets it perfect.

Early on, during that prelude, there’s an exquisitie, almost heartbreaking beauty surrounding the strings, which sound as though they belong on the soundtrack of a Chinese arthouse movie from Ang Lee or on the House of Flying Daggers soundtrack.

This effect is merely enhanced and made more hip once a slick, atmospheric backbeat and some lush synths provide a scintillating bedding for the full length version. Trust us, it’s utterly compelling and you won’t want it to end!

It’s followed by Kong, a soul-jazz offering that’s more in keeping with old school Bonobo, but which manages to retain a hip vibe and a decidedly contemporary edge. It’s tailor-made to grace the background of many a trendy city nightspot or restaurant, and yet rewards the patient listener, too, thanks to its intricate layering – evidence, if any were still needed, that Green enjoys incorporating as much as possible into his music, without ever overdoing the overall quality.

The same mix of soul-jazz is evident on the former single Eyesdown, which introduces us to the vocals of Andreya Triana – but ironically this interrupts the smooth flow of proceedings. It’s sub-par Bonobo, in my opinion, and not a patch on some of his previous vocal collaborations from other albums.

Triana boasts a fine set of vocals, but the backing on this particular track is off… or too familiar. Given the new directions that Bonobo had taken us so far, this seems like one of the lazier entries on the LP – which is surprising.

Thankfully, brilliant service is resumed on El Toro, a keen mix of Brazilian influences and snappy beats that weaves some lush flutes and strings into the mix to disarming, upbeat effect.

We Could Forever, meanwhile, raises the heartbeat still further, slipping a high-life guitar loop into some fantastically propulsive beats and a melancholy bassline to provide a keen mix of contrasts. It’s a potential dancefloor pleaser that shows Green hasn’t completely given up on his club DJ roots.

Another song and really early single, <>i>The Keeper, then marks the return of Triana and a much more satisifying blend of chilled, soulful vocals and jazzy bassline grooves. But, again, it’s one of the album’s weaker moments, in spite of being a genuinely class act.

All In Forms, which follows, has a supremely satisfying beat ‘n’ bass action, while Wonder When drops a finger-clicking backbeat with more of Triana. But in playfully soundchecking The Keeper‘s jazzy refrains, it again feels weaker for it – in spite of a lush chorus that arguably marks Triana’s finest moment.

Fortunately, the album ends with a real flourish as Bonobo reverts back to instrumental territory…

Animals sounds like a hip fusion of Snow Patrol, Joy Division and jazz-soul with flutes, horns and lip-smackingly good beat shuffles, while title track and showpiece Black Sands rounds things off in exemplary fashion courtesy of its swelling horns, beautiful acoustics and layered beats.

Early on, it even has the grace to sound as though it’s auditioning for The Godfather soundtrack, before taking its own direction for its final third and allowing you to depart the LP with the biggest smile on your face.

Hence, Black Sands marks another career-defining achievement for Green that still rates as one of the albums of the year, even in spite of its minor blips.

Download picks: Black Sands, Kiara Prelude, Kiara, El Toro, We Could Forever, Animals

Track listing:

  1. Kiara Prelude
  2. Kiara
  3. Kong
  4. Eyesdown
  5. El Toro
  6. We Could Forever
  7. The Keeper
  8. All In Forms
  9. Wonder When
  10. Animals
  11. Black Sands