February 1, 2022

Bits of Bonobos


Electronic music artist Simon Green’s, Bonobos project is modern twist on classic electronica. Bonobos is retro dance in some ways. For example, it uses classic sequencers and samples more than is typical in modern electronic music. This gives an overall analog sound to the music that is often lacking in modern electronica, especially EDM. In addition to the use of retro techniques, the structure of much of Bonobos’ music is retro. Shades of mid-80s electronic music such of as Kraftwerk and 80s and 90s electronica, like Jean Michel Jarre and Gaia, abound. Music exotic to Westerners , such as Middle Eastern and South Asian music, often shows up as samples. Combined with the mid-tempo to slow beats, Bonobos can, at times, seem almost new age but also acid house with bits of trip hop thrown in for good measure. Overall, this creates a unique and outworldly effect that can be hard to assign to a place or time.

For these reasons, the new album, Fragments, is a timeless album. It could have come from the 80s, or 90s, or 2022. It is also hard to pin down it’s genre outside of electronic music. Is it new age? The opening track “Polyghost” certainly seem so, especially the choir-like synths. The African, Middle Eastern, and Asian samples and vocals of “Otomo”, “Tides”, and “Elysian” would also point in that direction. Could it be electronic dance music? There’s no doubt that “Sapien” and “Shadows” comes across that way. Retro? You bet especially the Sade-like light jazz vocals on “Day by Day” and the R&B influenced riffs of “Rosewood”. The classic sequencers also add to that 80s dance music feel.

Given all the different influences, Fragments could have ended up a disjointed mess. Instead, Green deftly mixes the songs into a whole by slowly varying the beats. Tempos here are slower than most EDM or club music, but they remain consistent within songs, unlike a lot of new age. Bonobos also avoids the gimmicks that both electronic music and new age fall into. For example, Bonobos doesn’t use samples just to sound exotic nor does he use slow beats just so the music will be mellow enough for older audiences, as many new age artists do. Instead, Bonobos’ slow beats achieve a slow and sensuous feel, as if you’re dancing only with your lover, in front of a fireplace, with no one else around. It is sexy not just mellow.

Personally, I have always loved electronic music. What I was into though was the fast dance beats of a club. Yes, there was new age electronica for those moments when you were working on a hangover from the night before, but that was more medicine than art. It’s only more recently that I’ve started to appreciate what slow to mid-tempo electronic music can do for your mood and evening. It’s not just to chill out after a sweaty dance floor experience; Electronic music like Fragments is music for the pandemic – something that can drive an intimate evening.