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    Daydreams on the soft floor mat

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    Dance years were still like dog years in the last millennium; everything went extremely fast. You had to multiply the regular pace of life by a factor of seven in order to be able to grasp the technical and artistic new developments at all. Today that is no longer the case: Even artists and groups who are rooted in dance or electronic music in the broadest sense have been quite happy to stay in the area in which they feel comfortable for a while.

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    Example Bonobo: The British musician, whose real name is Simon Green, released his debut album “Animal Magic” 21 years ago. The music to be heard was what was then mostly referred to as downbeat or downtempo: maximally decelerated and analogue brushed tracks whose sound aesthetics were firmly tied to the grid of the well-known Ninja Tune label.

    Fusion of digital and analog

    With its wide range of sounds, however, it was too big from the start to only be an affair for checkers and nerds. Beginning in 2006, Bonobo’s tracks have found their way onto numerous soundtracks from series such as “Skins” and “House Of Cards” to commercials and games, becoming part of a cultural canon.

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    In recent years, Simon Green has not redefined his style, but has repeatedly rebalanced it and provided constantly updated footnotes. He has become even more adept at fusing digital and analog, samples and live recordings. Also in asking his listeners questions, for example: Is this actually bass music, which has its DNA in sweaty clubs, but has just been slowed down for the moments after the great euphoria? For the dawning light and the knowledge that you survived the last 48 hours on the dance floor? Or is it the dignified home red wine sound that makes the most impact when the well-earning crowd of guests is lounging at the oak table?

    A well-known problem that downbeat music often has to face and because of which it is sometimes ridiculed. Green finally answered her with “migration”, albeit without big words. With ramified tracks like the eight-minute “Outlier”, the Innov-Gnava vocals on “Bambro Koyo Ganda” or the soundtrack-like “Second Sun”, the album could be read as his commentary on a changing world, on his own nomadic life, but also on that of millions fleeing.

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    “Fragments” hits us five years later in a moment that seems made for such music. The narrative of the record is accordingly obvious: A regular night out was hardly possible in the last 22 months, so dance music was redundant in a way.

    And there were no longer crowds of guests sitting at the oak tables, but children doing their homework. Of course, Green also had time. Where “Migrations” was still in full swing, he was now working in his home studio. He responds to the problem of the forced standstill with a mixture of comfort and defiance, which is very clearly named in the second track “Shadows”.

    The Australian-New Zealand singer Jordan Rakei caresses “I Can Retrace The Memories In The Shadow” with the most beautiful voice of longing. In addition, the music oscillates between two extremes: on the one hand, Green dabs on a very solid beat synth sounds from the club business, on the other hand, he folds a kind of soft floor mat into the track, which also catches all those who talk about the “daydreams” in the text are pointed out, lose their balance.

    The following “Otomo” can also be understood as a commentary on the situation. While Green acts very mechanically and is always looking for the “drop”, i.e. that wake-up call that pulls the audience out of the monotony of the beat, an obscure sample sets the melodic tone; It comes from the piece “Subrali Sa” by the 100 Kaba Bagpipes, a bagpipe group founded in 1961 from the Rhodopes, a rump mountain range in southern Bulgaria. Bonobo’s bagpipes can hardly be heard anymore, he uses the vocal parts, pushing them together until you get the impression that 1000 vocalists are marching in step to the beat.

    Finally, on the following “Tides” we hear the album’s best-known voice: Jamila Woods constructs a direct lineage into the past. When she wonders in beautiful sound, while in the background the keys of an e-piano are gently touched, something that sounds like crystal glass is struck, connections can already be made to the heyday of downbeat, to everything between Portishead and Morcheeba.

    Bonobo is even more variable in his arrangements and, importantly, never sees his guests’ contributions as a means to an end. Guest vocals often come across as valuable but carelessly installed bathroom fittings; here they fit seamlessly into the music, Green understands them like samples.

    The seamlessness certainly harbors dangers because it offers a lot but demands very little. The temptation to understand this album as pure sound wallpaper is definitely present, especially when a track like “Elysian” suddenly focuses too much on neoclassical music or Green in the closing “Day By Day” maybe squints towards house for a moment too long – and the saxophone solo is a reminder of why saxophone solos were mined territory for a while.

    But Green’s newly discovered love for vintage synthesizers alone creates excitement, which repeatedly calls into the tracks and not only allows itself an amazing presence, but also dissonances. Not only are they a necessary counterbalance to the album’s softer tones, but also a nod to the future. The next bonobo concerts, the next bonobo DJ sets will come. And they will pop again.

    Source From: Tagesspiegel

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