REVIEW: Bonobo – Black Sands

Out now on Ninja Tune is the fourth studio album from Bonobo, entitled Black Sands. It is Bonobo‘s first full length release since 2006′s widely praised Days To Come and features recent Ninja Tune signing Andreya Triana on lead vocals for a few tracks on what is largely an instrumental release.

At just under an hour in length, as the Black Sands flow, the hourglass resonates with the frequencies of both computerised and organic sounds which journey between triumphant uplifting expressions and more subdued melancholic passages. Although the album does not strike me as being alarmingly innovative or ground-breaking, Simon Green AKA Bonobo’s latest offering is a compelling listening experience and a beautiful piece of music which is extremely rich with character. The album infuses live drums and percussion into Bonobo’s trademark syncopated mechanically programmed rhythms, which operate adjacent to synthesised electronic sounds, acoustic hand-played instruments and imposing symphonic arrangements.


01. Prelude
02. Kiara
03. Kong
04. Eyesdown feat. Andreya Triana
05. El Toro
06. We Could Forever
07. 1009
08. All In Forms
09. The Keeper feat. Andreya Triana
10. Stay The Same feat. Andreya Triana
11. Animals
12. Black Sands

As well as writing and producing the album, Simon Green himself is responsible for playing the majority of different instruments on the album and considering the largely instrumental nature of Black Sands and his extremely economical application of vocals (which are provided by the fabulous Andreya Triana) the recording relies heavily on Green’s juxtaposition of diverse musical elements to communicate ideas and create atmosphere. This is immediately apparent as the opening Prelude, in which a descending ostinato violin pattern accentuated by Green’s piano, double bass and harmonium playing, shifts into Kiara – in which the motif established in the prelude is repeated whilst drum machines, reverse effects, vocal chops and synthesizer arpeggiations catapult the organic opener into a dense electronically driven soundscape.

Despite the divergent sounds, ranging from jazz and soul to folk and film-score inspired orchestration which form the palette for Black Sands and saturate Bonobo’s breakbeats, it is less garish or gimmicky in its clashing of opposite ends of the colour wheel and more absorbingly rich and polychromatic. The album is consistent throughout and progresses naturally and cohesively as it integrates and meanders between these differing influences. Although the instrumentally driven tracks which occupy most of the album are very enjoyable to listen to (El Toro is particularly inspired and features lots of additional instrumentation and some absolutely wonderful drum work!) the tracks featuring Andreya Triana are the real highlights for me; The Keeper, Stay The Same and particularly the album’s second single Eyesdown – in which Triana’s haunting and evocative vocals are accompanied perfectly by a catchy repetitive electronic drum pattern and simplistic bassline alongside the dissonant chord progressions of a gritty, vibrato heavy distorted Rhodes piano.

mp3: Bonobo – El Toro

Definitely one of the best full length albums I have heard this year, I would highly recommend checking out Black Sands, which can be purchased right now from the Ninja Tune website. I was also lucky enough to see the tracks performed live when I attended the album launch at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club around a month ago, and I would highly recommend catching a live performance if at all possible.