I’m not sure how much of a compliment it is that I’ve heard Bonobo being used as mood or backing music for almost every single radio or TV segment targeted at twenty-somethings in the last year. To be memorable but inoffensive is certainly a skill of sorts, but it’s an unfair one to slap onto Bonobo, who writes music that’s actually so interesting that you find yourself tuning out from what someone is trying to tell you to decode what the track is you’re hearing beneath. I saw Bonobo play with absolutely no prior context at Falls Festival over the new year, and his set was by far one of the most uplifting and electrifying of the day, which is pretty impressive considering that the guy is almost famous for his excursions in downtempo electronica. The thing is, what some people may forget (and indeed what I didn’t know) is that Simon Green is a multi-instrumental genius first and computer whiz second. Most of the sounds here started out organically before being fed backwards, and that gives him a sort of richness of form that you’ll only hear in other Brits that have crossed the great divide, like Fink. It’s so much more rewarding than I first gave him credit for.
‘Cirrus’ is over a year old, but it’s a continual victory piece for Green. Instantly recognisible, totally addictive and almost hypnotic in the way it unfurls, it’s a gorgeous piece of music that’s totally groove based. Much of this has to do with his choice of instruments and their arrangement. The beat starts with chimes syncopated in a bossa style, but they’re alrady tuned, setting up a meditative ostinato that grows as the drum kit elements, chimes and tubular bells are built in. It all happens gradually, but not because he’s buying time. You actually feel the thing unfurl slowly, like a creature slowly waking up. The bass drum entry barely raises an eyebrow, so seamlessly is it integrated. The first real indication that you get that something’s happening is the inclusion of a third bells layer which starts shadowing in the melody, but it’s really tastefully done. There’s an entire environment being created in the texture of the instruments chosen here (a lot of them foreign percussion), which gives the bass guitar so much more gravity. Having seen him live, I’ve realised that Green is primarily a bass player, which explains how that instrument is positioned to seem like the key melodic instrument even when it isn’t. It’s a great line either way, pirouetting around the scale in some weird cyclic progression that I would probably understand if I still studied music.
I’ve written about songs that have one main thrust and a slow build before. ‘Cirrus’ falls into that camp, but the scale of the thing is just incredible. Every time you think that you’ve heard every piece of percussion on the planet, the man seems to find more. He drops parts out and pulls drones in to replace them, all while staying true to the continuity of the groove. I remember writing something that was similar in concept to this when I was in highschool music class and I’m so glad I finally got to see what it would have sounded like if I was actually talented. Bonobo will take tyour ears on a journey through harmony and culture, and it’s so painless you’ll feel like you were flying the whole thing first class in a skybed.
Background music? Hardly.
Bonobo – ‘Cirrus’