Switched On – Bonobo: Fragments (Ninja Tune)

bonobo

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Perhaps surprisingly, this is the first album from Bonobo in five years. Simon Green – whose pseudonym this is – describes his new record as the most emotionally intense record that he has ever had to make. As with previous releases he takes a number of guest vocalists with him on the journey, dovetailing those tracks with instrumentals.

What’s the music like?

Familiar. If you have heard Bonobo’s music before, the manner of its construction on Fragments will tick a number of boxes. Beautifully orchestrated, the instrumentals work well with the broken beats that Green employs, which have more power and depth this time.

The vocal guests complement his sensitive work with some meaningful lyrics. There are strong contributions from Joji, Kadhja Bonet, Jamila Woods and O’Flynn, but pick of the turns is from Jordan Rakei, who lends a powerful tug to the heartstrings on Shadows.

The thicker set grooves may be welcome, but does the familiarity of Bonobo’s sound breed contempt? Certainly the chopped up vocals on Age Of Phase feel familiar, very much a continuation of what Bonobo does best. Rosewood is also a characteristically moody instrumental with vocal snippets, though Otomo is more acidic, dropping a heavy set beat. On the calmer side the shuffling beats of the comforting Closer work well, while the silvery strings to close out Tides are reminiscent of Ravel. Elysian also has alluring strings, especially when teamed with a harp.

Does it all work?

It does, but the feeling persists that this is music we have heard before – and possibly in more meaningful colours. In spite of the emotion invested by Green the music does feel grey at times. That may seem harsh on Bonobo, for the music is beautifully constructed and executed, but it is more than a little downbeat in a way we have experienced before.

Is it recommended?

It is for Bonobo devotees, as there are some good moments here – and especially the Jordan Rakei contribution – but for those new to his sound an album from earlier in his output, such as Black Sands, is arguably the best place to start.

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