Bonobo’s catalogue is marked by periods of quiet evolution. From breakout ‘Black Sands’ onwards his fusion of club tropes, down tempo songwriting techniques, and gorgeous production elements has made for a thrilling series of full length projects, albums that have garnered critical acclaim and crossover success. 2017’s ‘Migration’ for example reached the UK Top 10 on its release, balancing underground ideas with a huge audience.
‘Fragments’ finds Bonobo spinning the dials once more. While ‘Migration’ was largely written on tour, ideas processed on a laptop, ‘Fragments’ finds the producer – real name Si Green – putting down roots, both in his own life, and his creative ventures. Now based in LA, and off the road following a huge 18 month tour, the record incorporates an array of collaborators and a new thirst for modular synths alongside some core Bonobo elements.
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The album’s high points reveal these moments of continuum. Jordan Rakei’s deft vocal on ‘Shadows’ pivots against Bonobo’s production work, his fusion of digital prowess and a very human type of soul music recalling some of his previous collaborations. Yet there’s also a feeling of moving outward, absorbing fresh elements; Jamilla Woods adds thrilling R&B elements to ‘Tides’, while Kadhja Bonet’s appearance on album closer ‘Day By Day’ takes the house-indebted shuffler to a new dimension.
Perhaps the most evolutionary elements of ‘Fragments’ rely on those modular excursions. The cyclical patterns that adorn the hallucinatory ‘Age Of Phase’ for example, or the faint daubs of digital melancholia that linger across the Fender Rhodes chords on ‘Counterpart’. Indeed, ‘Fragments’ thrives when it is at its most emotionally open; take the Miguel Atwood-Ferguson aided opener ‘Polyghost’, a meditative miniature that moves from plucked traces of harp into lush orchestration amid a 90 second arc.
While never fully removing itself from Bonobo’s well-worn identity, ‘Fragments’ is a bold attempt at synthesis. A work of subtle evolution, it’s a record that rewards repeated listens, with patience allowing these fresh elements to rise to the surface on an album that underlines Bonobo’s role as one of UK electronic music’s most consistent, and pervasive voices.
Words: Robin Murray
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