"'Fragments' is boldly expansive, yes, but is it classic?"
The UK musician, producer and DJ Bonobo – aka Simon Green – is today an electronica phenom, achieving five Grammy nominations overall. And, five years after his commercial breakthrough, Migration, he's delivering what Ninja Tune's presser proclaims "his masterpiece". Fragments is boldly expansive, yes, but is it classic?
The Brighton native's success happened incrementally. Green presented an underground debut, Animal Magic, back in 2000 via the cult label Tru Thoughts, subsequently home to The Bamboos. His aesthetic at the time was a late take on British trip-hop, paralleling Thievery Corporation. Shifting to Ninja Tune ahead of Dial 'M' For Monkey, Green gradually transitioned into a nebulous nu-jazz mode, incorporating more real instrumentation over samples (and assembling a live band). Crucially, he began working with vocalists. Green recast himself as an emotronica auteur with 2010's Black Sands. That same year, he moved to the US, initially living in New York, then Los Angeles.
With the symbolic Migration, Green crossed over like Jon Hopkins – who coincidentally co-wrote its title track. The LP featured the Aussie Nick Murphy (Chet Faker) and struck #12 on the ARIA Albums Chart. Green received his first two Grammy noms in dance music categories.
On his seventh album, Fragments, Green again switches things up sonically. Indeed, the Brit expat revels in his club influences – possibly anticipating the party scene reopening post-pandemic, ironically as he sought sanctuary from the doom by trekking into America's wild, RÜFÜS DU SOL-style. Green reimagines house, acid and future bass.
The lead single, Rosewood, is deep house bordering on broken beat – complete with anonymous vocal hook. Yet Otomo, a collaboration with London producer O'Flynn, is an even bigger banger. Spanning six minutes-plus, Otomo is all the more epic with its sample of the Bulgarian bagpipe orchestra 100 Kaba Gaidi. In many ways, Otomo evokes Enigma, the Romanian don Michael Cretu's vehicle among the earliest to rave-ify ethnic Eastern Europe folk. (Another track, Elysian, is almost Celtic chill.)
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Mind, Fragments remains organic, Green playing Fender Rhodes and liaising with both the hip arranger Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and avant-garde harpist Lara Somogyi. For 2013's The North Borders, Green was joined by neo-soul queen Erykah Badu – a coup. But the guest singer/songwriters on Fragments are next level – the most unexpected being 88rising R&B star Joji.
The Chicago soulster, poet and activist Jamila Woods graces the acoustic quiet storm ballad Tides – not immediately distinctive, but close to Green's downtempo roots. Equally underrated, the psy-soul Kadhja Bonet elevates Day By Day – a luxe lounge groove with sax and strings. The Joji song, From You, a slo' jam, is the album's idiosyncratic moment – Green venturing into contemporary chart R&B.
But Fragments' thematic meridian is Shadows, with New Zealander Jordan Rakei. Rakei blessed us with last year's stellar What We Call Life (he himself creates house as Dan Kye), but Shadows is his strongest collab since Disclosure's Masterpiece off Caracal. Green pays homage to Detroit house (specifically Theo Parrish) – only, with lyrics alluding to creeping anxiety, Shadows is a dystopian anthem.
Fragments may not be Green's career-defining masterpiece – from such a dynamic artist, that's surely still to come. Nonetheless, it's the tastemaker's soundtrack to an existential summer.