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In electronic music, style matters more than all else. Performers who work with computers and other digital gadgets often use the same tools; they draw from the same sources; and they fall within a relatively narrow continuum. So if you don't have your own sound, you don't have diddly squat.
Two years ago Bonobo, Brighton native Simon Green's chimpy alias, put out Animal Thoughts and introduced his particular version of animated chill-out music to the world. For all its strengths and weaknesses, Bonobo's sound remains his own. Dial M For Monkey takes the simian out on his new affiliation with Ninja Tune, drawing from a similar range of approaches.
Green drapes his music on a foundation of cyclical beats, each tune with its own flavor of groove. Far from repetitive, each new cycle incorporates a new twistwhich, of course, is the modus operandi of live drummers. Reverberant organ vamps appear everywhere, serving to preserve the flow and tie these pieces together into a coherent whole (which, incidentally, is another feature of Bonobo's style). The retro organ sound, together with spare, funky rhythms, recalls the spirit of '70s jazz-rock fusion and the burgeoning funk/disco scene of that era. All sorts of other voices chime in along the way, including flute on "Pick Up," which rides greedily on and off the backbeat, and "Nothing Owed," a spare downtempo ballad.
You have to accept Bonobo's music on its own terms or look elsewhere. It isn't particularly dynamic and it doesn't take a lot of risks. There certainly are no bright sparks or extended instrumentals. But in terms of consistency of sound and style, Dial M For Monkey is hard to match. When you're in a calm mood and you need a bath in washes of reverberant grooves, this is the thing. And, lest these impressions suggest any sort of flaccidity, rest assured the record remains fresh and clever all the way through.
No doubt the monkey line will soon see a surge in calls.
I grew up listening to mainstream '70s rock then ended up on the staff at the college paper at San Diego State, and volunteered to review heavy metal LPs. My second semester, the music editor dropped a Fenton Robinson LP on my desk, Night Flight. You like metal; they play guitar--he plays guitar, the editor told me
I grew up listening to mainstream '70s rock then ended up on the staff at the college paper at San Diego State, and volunteered to review heavy metal LPs. My second semester, the music editor dropped a Fenton Robinson LP on my desk, Night Flight. You like metal; they play guitar--he plays guitar, the editor told me. If we don't run a review, Alligator Records is going to stop servicing us.
Night Flight opened up a whole new world for me--the blues led me, inevitably, to Basie, who led to Duke, who led to Mingus, who led to Miles, who led to ...