Music

Bonobo: Black Sands Remixed

The British producer's slickly curated remix album for his near-great 2010 full-length has a serious lack of imagination.


Bonobo

Black Sands Remixed

Label: Ninja Tune
UK Release Date: 2012-02-13
US Release Date: 2012-02-14
International Release Date: 2012-02-21
Website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

He’s been aptly described by Allmusic’s Dean Carlson as a purveyor of “pretension-free, post-party intellectual chillout” music, but what really separates Bonobo, née Simon Green, from the chillout herd is, simply put, his melodicism. The humble ambitions of his chosen format limit the British producer to gentle folk and R&B hooks, which can be pretty on impact and sustained in repetition without trying a listener’s patience or giving him a headache. That might read as an unremarkable achievement, in the genre context of simple, soothing pleasures, and there certainly is nothing remarkable about Bonobo’s cool jazz and alt-rap inflected palette. But the unassuming nature of his approach makes the stickiness of (some of) his tunes that much more unforeseeable and impressive, putting him in the tradition of mesmerizing simplicity that Aphex Twin’s “Rhubarb” and Brian Eno’s ambient work, and Stars of the Lid more recently, exemplify. To this critic’s ears, Bonobo has yet to top his breakout single “Terrapin” in coaxing great beauty out of very little, but the surprisingly consistent whole of 2010’s suave and bittersweet Black Sands, now remixed by various artists at album length, comes pretty damn close.

Considering we listen to Bonobo for tunes and not sounds (even as we let him slip into the background) he should be easy fodder for a decent remix, which would -- ideally -- seize on what sticks in our heads and show us something new. Defamiliarization needs a familiar object first, after all, and what feels more familiar than a good hook? At album’s length, this project could theoretically be as generative and compelling as the original.

Theoretically.

But Black Sands Remixed, for all its virtues, is not very generative or compelling. It offers a diffusion of Black Sands’ good hooks across the terrain of current beat-making trends that is tasteful but maybe a little too predictable. Giving Black Sands a dubstep or bass makeover is not much of a reach for this already moody, mobile music. Some serious imagination is lacking.

There are exceptions to this rule. Two brand new originals are highlights: “Ghost Ship,” a funky and lush bit of instrumental hip-hop, and “Brace Brace”, which follows in the orchestrated post-rock style of Black Sands’ title track. Meanwhile, that title track’s one remix, an ambient piece by Duke Dumont, closes the album on a deceptively oblique note, deconstructing “Black Sands” beyond recognition while somehow retaining the source material’s distinct mood.

For the most part, however, Black Sands Remixed does a lot of what you’d expect, favoring tracks centered on Bonobo’s current touring partner Andreya Triana’s breathy vocal lead. “Eyesdown”, in particular, gets no less than four iterations, three of them sequenced consecutively, two of them grimy, one of them dubby, none of them terribly interesting. Blue Daisy and Banks come close to something by refracting “Stay the Same” through a prism of blissed-out chillwave, and reimagining “The Keeper” via the cathartic pop of its bridge, respectively. Yet their work still feels unnecessarily additive, begging for Bonobo’s relatively economic songcraft. Elsewhere, Cosmin TRG’s deep house remix of “Kiara” is little more than a wasted opportunity. Only the frequently great FaltyDL manages to make his own voice heard, in his sweaty, shimmering take on “All in Forms”.

Black Sands Remixed therefore fails to deliver on the promise of opening up Black Sands’ ample spaces for reinterpretation. A few notable bright spots notwithstanding, it sounds too often like a survey of subgenres -- folktronic, IDM, and the aforementioned house, ambient, and dubstep -- grafted onto Bonobo’s melodic originals, with the lose-lose effect of tokenizing the former and underselling the potential of the latter. It isn’t a phoned-in affair -- a lack of the usual remix stretchmarks, like rushed vocals or dynamic flatness, suggests the artist himself had a hand in curating Remixed -- but neither is it exactly necessary. It settles demurely into secondary status, rather than boldly nominating itself as a companion piece. Perhaps it is unfair of me to hold something most likely released principally for devoted fans to an optimistic standard that is, for the most part, theoretical. But I’m a fan, too. And I think Bonobo, and the melodicism that makes him special, deserve better.

5

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.

Film

Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.

Music

3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".

Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.