UK downtempo heavyweight Bonobo deserves accolades as a visionary of the genre, but I can't help feeling nostalgia for his original sound, one that's numbed more with each arriving record.
I have written pages that would make me blush regarding the first time I heard Bonobo in college on a hazy Tuesday during summer quarter with a lady friend, amongst tapestries and incense – no, neither of us had dreadlocks, nor bathing issues. Deep in a chatterbox of conversations, she had slyly put his music on, allowed me to yap along, but patiently anticipated my curiosity to inquire. I can still recall the giddiness in her face when I finally shut up and asked. I could sense her air of victory in telling me it was Bonobo's Animal Magic.
Animal Magic is still one of my favorite records of all time – yes, I made the brash claim of “all time.” Do something! Those were simpler times, when the push button artists were still sample-based and denied their wild aspirations to collaborate with vocalists and incorporate live instrumentation.
Bonobo's latest effort is Black Sands and the first two singles feature the vocal stylings of Andreya Triana. Triana belongs over Bonobo's jazzy downtempo – check out “The Keeper” on his Myspace page for a second example. My gripe is these feel more like Triana songs, dulled in order to refrain from stepping on her words. Simply put, I miss the Bonobo that felt up to par with DJ Shadow's Entroducing, which showed the same promise of even greater territories left to explore. This is still solid music, fit for an intellectual's afternoon of hot tea and a Vollmann novel, but it's empty compared to the fledgling years of discovering Bonobo.
Black Sands is out March 23 on Ninjatune.