As per usual for UK electronic artist Bonobo, The North Borders starts off extremely well. 'First Fires' punctuates a beautifully understated vocal performance from Grey Reverend with submerged synth droplets and fleeting, glacial, ASMR inducing pads -- all enhanced by a confident and generous allowance for negative space that seems to only come with experience. In terms of perfect intros, it almost stacks up to the double barrelled future classic of Prelude/Kiara from 2010's Black Sands. Unfortunately, in this case there isn't a whole lot of interest that follows.
Flawlessness is The North Borders' most glaring flaw. Despite the unique sampling and use of organic instruments, the majority of this album suffers from being too formulaic and mathematical. The beats are crisp, the production is nothing less than masterful and the whole composition is replete with textural subtleties and pleasant refrains. But that's what frustrates the most: that what should have been a transcendent record is merely a pleasant one, adamant in its refusal to reach for the next level. The frequent vocal samples and female guest appearances are a part of the problem, whose uniformly sterile deliveries obscure the underlying instrumentals that will have no doubt been meticulously composed and processed, threatening to relegate themselves to background noise. No surprise then, that aside from the aforementioned intro, the best tracks here are the ones in which anything even vaguely resembling a human voice is entirely absent.
The North Borders is a technical marvel, one for the heads, but too static and modest to hit you in the gut. If we assigned grades I'd give it a C+, for Competent...plus.
Best Tracks: First Fires (Ft. Grey Reverend), Sapphire, Ten Tigers.