1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 149

Black Sands, by Bonobo
Suggested by Jamie Walsh

The concept of “background music” is an interesting one.

Not many of the other artistic pursuits have such a passive variant. It’s not as though you can do a little “background reading” in the sense we’re discussing here. There’s a case these days that it’s possible to do some “background watching,” but I’d offer that the stuff being watched wasn’t created for the background watching audience in mind. In the same way, people don’t paint “background portraits” or spin wheels to create “background pottery”.

Background music is consumed osmotically, piped into our brains almost constantly. It’s arguable that the best scores for Film and TV shows are ones that are unobtrusive, and supermarkets peddle gentle muzak that never trades in stabbing discordance or screaming strings. Background music should be relaxing, subtle, pleasant, and largely invisible.

Black Sands, by Bonobo, would be wonderful background music.

Before I continue, I must stress that I don’t mean this in a negative way. I think such a distinction is artistically valid. You’ve heard me rant and rail against other albums in this project that fall into the “ambient soundscapes” category, all plink and plonk and no swerve or verve. On the face of it, such nonsense should fit the background bill. Instead, for me at least, they go too far in the opposite direction, driving me to irritation or boredom rather than into a Zen state of mind.

For me, good background music walks a knife-edge. It should be subtle and repetitive enough to wash over you, while being interesting enough for it to bring joy when your mind’s eye pulls it into sharper focus. In this regard, Black Sands in a triumph. Propelled by a laid-back dance drumset and airy, spacious strings, the core experience is mainly trippy and downbeat, which allows the listener to safely fade in and out of the sound like an undulating dinghy atop a gently swelling sea.

This base has been thoroughly vajazzled at every point, so the individual tracks offer plenty of pleasantries. For example, there’s an undercurrent of international flavour in places, a worldly aesthetic that would brighten any mood. Other fine filigree includes some excellent drumwork on my standout song, El Toro, along with some bold clarinet work on the Animals and the title track Black Sands. In fact, instrumentally there’s a hell of a lot going on, and Mr Bonobo himself lends his talents to an entire Dawsons showroom. None of this ostentation detracts from the relaxed atmosphere created, as the sum of the whole is still smooth and unassuming.

I give Black Sands a gentle 6/10, as I can see it becoming a background selection in my theoretical free time. Interesting enough to appreciate, while beige enough to blend away. I doubt that was Bonobo’s intent, but it’s a niche well filled nonetheless.

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