British electronic music legend Bonobo is set to return this week. Released on January 14th via Ninja Tune, his seventh album, Fragments, may well be his best to date. Sun-drenched electronic in all its glory, it’s a progressive record comprised of anthem after anthem.
Bonobo’s intricate production gives the songs a three-dimensional edge, much like his friend, sound design pioneer Jon Hopkins, does so well. In this sense, as with Migration, his last effort, you could argue that Fragments is much more than plainly an album.
The LP is a collection of tangible sonic paintings that push the concept of production to the limits, showing up a lot of the music that currently occupies the airwaves. It’s intellectual, introspective, heady, and vintage Bonobo. Without a doubt, his most multi-faceted record, there’s a bit of everything on here. Ostensibly trip-hop, it’s also so much more than that. There are elements of dubstep, techno, ambient, garage, lo-fi, and even trap, all blended into this sonic delight.
Upon first listen, track four ‘Otomo’ featuring O’Flynn, grabs your attention. It’s a pulsating piece of techno that contains a sub akin to works by bassy masters such as Burial or Zomby, but takes us on a meandering six-minute journey, not knowing where you’ll end up. This cut is indicative of Bonobo’s sponge-like position as a producer and consumer of music. He pulls from different genres and gives us an audio experience that is truly memorable.
Aside from O’Flynn, there’s also a host of other artists who help bring the record to life. Bonobo pulls in input from Jamila Woods, who shines on the downbeat ‘Tides’, and Jordan Rakei, whose unmistakable vocals augment track two, ‘Shadows’. At other points, there are takes featuring Joji, Kadhja Bonet and Miguel Atwood-Fergurson, who all shine.
What is clear is that the ideas for the album were born out of fragmented ideas and experimentation, imbuing it with a ‘where’s he going to go next?’ kind of thinking, which never fails to take the album to the next level. The segue from ‘Tides’, the album’s centrepiece, into the aptly named ‘Elysian’, is a masterful reflection of this. In fact, ‘Elysian’ ranks among some of the most emotive that Bonobo’s ever made.
Following in this vein is ‘Counterparts’, a synthetic masterwork, harking back to the Migration era. Utilising bells, it transports you to the dancefloor at a festival in some foreign clime, wrapping you in the warmth of the setting sun. Bonobo manages to fuse it with oscillating synths, pulling you in like a narcotic and sending you on your way into the night.
Interestingly, the album marked a departure for Bonobo in the way that he approached writing the album. Many thought the follow-up to Migration would never happen, but it did, and it did in a way that was alien to the man himself. Normally, he’s always composed whilst in transit, but this time, given the advent of the pandemic, he was forced to write stationary, in isolation, as the world grappled with the virus. He was discovering how to translate feelings he’d always struggled to express into music. Over time, aided by the breathtaking expanses of wild nature outside his adopted home of Los Angeles, Bonobo discovered what he was looking for. They were “alien and unique and awe-inspiring”.
As much as the record is about the primal side of existence, it’s also about the dancefloor. He explained: “I remembered all over again how much I loved crowds and movement and people connecting with each other.” In terms of appreciation for the dancefloor, ‘Age of Phase’ is about as fine as you can get. The break that comes just over the halfway point is an effective way of changing the direction of the track, and the textures that Bonobo brings in are spot on.
Coupling this ode to the dancefloor is banger ‘Sapien’. The breakbeat, textures and the heavy sub that kicks in at the end is old-school Bonobo. In the same vein as an Aphex Twin, Skee Mask or Happa piece, it’s another cut that will swiftly make its way into the libraries of DJ’s worldwide. Expect to be hearing it mixed into sets on dancefloors this summer.
I haven’t heard a dance record this refreshing in a long time. From start to finish, it is flawless and confirms why we missed Bonobo so immensely over the past few years. It’s everything you want from an electronic body of work and will be spun for a very long time.
Listen to ‘From You (feat. Joji)’ below.