Following the release of his most successful album to date, 2013's The North Borders, as well as an even more triumphant world tour, British producer Bonobo (Simon Green) returned in 2017 with his sixth proper studio full-length, Migration. The album was partially inspired by his touring experiences, but also by the death of a relative. Green's family is spread out across the world, and they all reconvened in Brighton, England for the funeral. These types of experiences cause Green to question what identity means, and where a person is from if he or she is constantly moving. As with all Bonobo recordings, Green absorbs a multitude of cultural influences here, from the underground club sounds of London to American folk songs. Strangely enough, other than "Bambro Koyo Ganda," a collaboration with New York-based Moroccan group Innov Gnawa, the album somehow sounds less exotic than some of his other releases. This isn't meant as a complaint, though, as Green has always demonstrated a talent for blending disparate elements into a cohesive sound. As ever, he excels at incorporating acoustic instruments and drums in a manner that makes it difficult to tell if they're being played live or sampled and chopped up -- he devised an algorithm for the drum programming, yet it sounds human rather than computer generated. "Ontario" is built on booming, crackly breakbeats reminiscent of the classic '90s Ninja Tune sound, but the suspenseful swelling horns and delicate acoustic guitars and Rhodes keyboards take center stage. Other tracks are more club-focused and employ shuffling 2-step rhythms or thumping house beats, but the warm, emotive melodies are what drive the songs. Emotionally, Migration continues down the dusky path of The North Borders. It's not an outright gloomy or depressing album, but it's certainly not a carefree, relaxing chill-out record either. Tracks like "Grains" (built around an eerie yet homely Pete Seeger sample) seem world-weary but contemplative and quietly transcendent, and the Brandy-sampling "Kerala" is more outwardly ecstatic. The album ends on a subdued note with "Figures," which slices up vocal extracts from "Just an Excuse" by Elkie Brooks. House fans will recognize the sample from when Moodymann flipped it for his instant classic "Why Do U Feel" in 2012, but Bonobo's take is subtle and reflective rather than heart-wrenching, and it feels like it's approaching the sentiment from a different angle. With Migration, Green blends the unexpected with the familiar and emerges with some of his most affecting work yet.
AllMusic Review by Paul Simpson