Simon Green, the one-man musical force behind Bonobo, broke out in a big way with his 2010 downtempo masterpiece Black Sands, an acclaimed album whose impact was unexpected but much deserved. Nearly four years later, Green, a Brit who now calls Brooklyn home, has turned heads once again with The North Borders, an album that finds him exploring darker, glitchier beats and collaborating with the likes of Erykah Badu and an array of rising talents.
Before setting off on his world tour supporting the new release, we caught up with Green on a rooftop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and asked him to talk about the creative path he traveled on in order to go from Black Sands to The North Borders.
Athletic electro funk pogo-ers Andy Harber and Richard Roberts pull up a neon-coloured legwarmer with utterly groovy avant guardianship high-fiving the right side of plastic. Wondrously-tipped and making deceptive its united variations in tempo, it’s as if Letherette have made their way out the other side of a chillwave fog and sound thrilled at new discoveries seen in sharp focus.
Putting boogie in the beats scene and swapping its dark glasses for oversized star-shaped specs, the cool vibrates from kitsch touches and Gallic nods connecting the boldly retro and forward-thinking. Doing Justice on “D&T” with its shaggy guitar solo, nu-disco jitterbug “Restless” with Letherette hyping their stock drowsy stabs, and glamorous disco-glitch “Cold Clam” treading water to get to the object of its affection, turn the dance floor into one big post-gym, locker room frolic. Just as good a head-nodder, “I Always Wanted You Back” is a soaring hip-hop hug paving streets with gold; given the overriding energy, there’s no harm in taking a reflective breather and wringing out the sweatband now and again.
When the album gets its head down, “Gas Stations and Restaurants” is a big drop-off in vibrancy; a muggy soul comedown that typically slickens and perks up. The detours are maturely landscaped, still keeping the pervading glisten aglow, even if “Hard Martha” and “Say the Sun” sound comparatively down and out of breath on one of the year’s freshest sounding albums.
Simon Green broadens an established electronic compass with exceptional composure. Beginning with opening track “First Fires” you may be expecting something reclusive, hardened by the cold or quietly embittered. Instead it’s a balance of the honest — Bonobo dotting the sunshine with blackspots — and the tender and reassuring, burning incense and burbling at one with nature. With an embrace always available within a layout of organic meets electronic via an orchestral-folk double team, Green’s emotional awareness is never grandiose but always provides a crutch to lean on.
At the album’s core, a chime structure links rustically refined club grooves and “Emkay” doing picture postcard two-step for the discerning headphone wearer. Acting as a key cog to a chain of instrumental events, set off in perfect synch from a perfectionist’s tool shed, it makes the folk elements and wooded components intertwine with a satisfying snap through styles. Post-dubstep/après-bass roll “Know You” makes light of the heaviness crowding round it, neo-soul-improver “Antenna” chases butterflies to extend the footloose feeling, and hip-hop conscious instrumentals “Jets” and “Ten Tigers” safeguard a richness that stays limber.
Biting its tongue at noodly or twee, being in touch with on-trend sounds gets to nestling comfortably inside your head while introducing themselves to your soul. Beats to picnic by, for messing about on the river to, or hiding away with – and that’s not to forget the requisite alerting of advertising strategists along the way.
Luke Blair doesn’t give into the bravado of a chest out-rapper with a statement like that. The context to Lonely at the Top does deal in loneliness though, an enigmatic clash of electronica defined by a lack of sympathizers, seemingly having it all but unable to conquer insecurities.
Beginning as a lounging blur and fade of color, unsteady on its feet after popping one too many corks as the classiness bedraggles come the end of the evening, Lukid strikes out with disjointedly echoing episodes. Cold sweat rains from its temples as “Manchester” sends chillwave’s temperature plummeting, a straggle of sounds and misted tangles meaning emotions are contradictory. Wallowing one minute to the beatless humbling/detox of “Snow Theme,” Lukid then parks himself next door to the boomingly irrational dubstep/techno “This Dog Can Swim.”
Jumping from one emotion to the next in pretty quick time could stereotype Lukid with a convenient label of ‘just’ being a complex character. Lonely at the Top has troubles, both figuratively and with its flow pushed and pulled, but is seeking to get better and always treats ears. “Riquelme” reaches deep house with a sore head, yet “USSR” and “The Life of the Mind” are much more calming influencers. Blair has a decent album of melancholy electronica that avoids sounding washed out, while being peppered with aggravated blows that play their part.