- Bonobo, Fragments
(Ninja Tune, vinyl, CD, digital)
Bonobo's new album, Fragments, pulls listeners in two directions: the dance floor and the nearby lounge area. That's kind of his modus operandi, which he's honed since his debut at the turn of the century. The Los Angeles-based, British-born electronic musician's hypnotic grooves could inspire a throng of churning, sweaty bodies to congregate under strobes and lasers. Just as likely, infusions of trip-hop, jazz and exotica found in his work make it easy to kick back and melt into a velvet chaise.
In the 20-plus years that Simon Green has made music under the simian moniker, he's tapped similarly chill artists to serve up vocals atop his undulating compositions. Numerous guests have teamed up with Bonobo, including alt-R&B queen Erykah Badu and neo-soul singer-songwriter Andreya Triana, whose debut, Lost Where I Belong, Green produced. If one thing connects the singers, it's that they all land in a similar midpoint between serene and amped-up.
Fragments is a pandemic-era record that Green began when life went to hell in early 2020. Despite its name, the record is cohesive and flows on rivers of strings, synths and club beats. It pulls in a new crop of guest stars, including New Zealand smooth talker Jordan Rakei (currently opening for Bonobo on tour) and artist-activist Jamila Woods. Beyond the marquee collaborators, other tracks include samples of Triana, singer-songwriter Maxwell and Bulgarian choir 100 Kaba-Gaidi.
On opener "Polyghost," harpist Lara Somogyi's plucked strings and composer Miguel Atwood-Ferguson's orchestral arrangements impart a slow revelation, like a beaded curtain gradually drawn to reveal a luxurious sanctuary. The song's final trill is a held breath that exhales as beats and bass emerge on the Rakei-assisted "Shadows."
The tracks on Fragments exist under a haze, each arriving and evaporating with such gentleness that they blur into an impressionistic cloudscape. But they occasionally crackle with jagged, metallic beats. With skittering rhythms, "Otomo" and "Age of Phase" both employ disorienting vocal samples that have a similarly punctuated quality.
"From You," featuring chameleonic, Japanese-born R&B artist Joji, is a standout cut. Slow and syrupy, Joji's vocals ride a fuzzy bass line and wobbly synths that underscore the song's themes of uncertainty. As he repeats, Joji is "falling from you" not falling for you. Where he'll land is unknown.
With seven full-length records, dozens of EPs and singles, plus remix albums and other compilations, such as his 2013 addition to the Late Night Tales series, Green has solidified himself as a stalwart of the chill-out genre. Fragments is a satisfying listen from start to finish, whether you're tuning in or zoning out.
Fragments is available at bonobomusic.bandcamp.com and all major streaming platforms. Bonobo performs on Saturday, March 5, at the Higher Ground Ballroom in South Burlington. Jordan Rakei opens.