Music

Bonobo: Dial M for Monkey

Andy Hermann

Bonobo

Dial M for Monkey

Label: Ninja Tune
US Release Date: 2003-06-17
UK Release Date: 2003-06-09
Amazon
iTunes

You don't think of chillout music as something that sneaks up behind you and throws you into a sonic headlock, but that's more or less what Bonobo's Simon Green has done on his latest full-length, Dial M for Monkey. Urbane beat connoisseurs everywhere are going to throw this disc on in the background, then suddenly realize that all the ice has melted in the cocktail shaker because they've been standing there mesmerized for the last 20 minutes. Jazzier, cooler or more organic than most of what passes for downtempo and chillout these days, Bonobo's debut on Ninja Tune, his first "major" label, is a subliminally seductive collection of atmospheric instrumentals blending the best of '60s mod soundtracks, globetrotting exotica, and trip-hoppy mood music. It's exemplary.

The Brighton-based Green has been concocting his unusually sophisticated brand of downtempo (a term he doesn't like, but no one's come up with a better one) for years, but it wasn't until 2000 that he really started getting attention with a sitar-soaked gem called "Terrapin". That led to one original album and a collection of remixes on the Tru Thoughts label, and eventually to the Ninja Tune deal. Now comes Dial M, Green's self-professed first "proper" album (the first one written and recorded all of a piece), and it picks up right where his debut Animal Magic left off, layering deceptively simple, delicate melodies and instrumental touches over rock-steady beats.

Bonobo's influences are obvious but never derivative: The eastern-tinged opener "Noctuary" echoes the smooth, dreamy exotica of Thievery Corporation and Kruder & Dorfmeister; the mournful "Change Down" has the trippy atmospherics and edgy, restless beats of a track by DJ Shadow or Green's friend and labelmate Amon Tobin; "Pick Up", featuring amazing flute work by Andy Ross, sounds like a breakbeat remix of St. Germain. Mostly, though, Bonobo just sounds like himself, especially on standout tracks like "Flutter", with its cascading glockenspiel tinkles, spy movie horns and infectious sitar riff, and the gorgeous "Nothing Owed", a jazzy ballad with an unforgettable melody of interwoven guitar and keyboard that may be the best thing Green's done yet -- which is saying a lot.

Elsewhere, Green's mastery of atmosphere enables him to craft songs that, while less immediately arresting, unfold over repeat listenings into extraordinarily evocative, almost cinematic collisions of jazzy instrumentation and modern beat science. Check out the start-stop rhythms and artfully modulated bass guitar on "D Song", or the slowly building swirl of keyboards and synths that makes "Wayward Bob" such a hypnotic voyage into latter-day trip-hop. Even a throwaway track like "Something for Windy", clocking in at a mere 1:11, has more atmosphere and groove packed into it than some downtempo purveyors can muster in an entire album.

After the unabashed prettiness of "Nothing Owed", Dial M concludes with a more dramatic number, the almost orchestral "Light Pattern", a cut that somehow manages to layer multiple string and horn tracks without ever getting mannered or kitchen-sinky about it. Credit Green's unerring sense of groove and distrust of ear-grabbing melodies or solos (flute on "Pick Up" excepted) for keeping even his densest of arrangements from going off the deep end. Even on the shapeshifting "Light Pattern", the bassline and drum track never get lost in the mix, and the parts definitely add up to more than the whole. It's telling that for his upcoming tour with a live band, the multi-talented Green has decided to put himself on bass; where a lot of auteur artists would have grabbed the spotlight with flashier soloist instruments (are you listening, Moby?), Green would rather be hanging out in the lower reaches of mix, anchoring things down. Maybe it's that low center of gravity that makes the music of Bonobo, so unassuming at first shine, so unexpectedly powerful. Powerful enough to throw you into a headlock and keep you there over the course of nine spacey, mesmerizing instrumentals.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Music

How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.

Music

Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

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.