By Toussaint Egan
I have a confession to make. Typically, I’m not that big a fan of remix albums. It comes out of personal experiences with past albums where the failure of such projects wasn’t for a lack of ambition, but rather that of cohesion. It comes from the problem of too many producers’ hands dipping into the same pot, fiddling with arrangements rather than reimagining them and producing songs that only generously pass for something listenable. Apart from few and far exceptions, like last year’s Jamie xx and Gil Scott Heron remix album We’re New Here, and a couple of independent a cappella instrumental albums, I feel kind of lukewarm to the remix genre. But when I heard that one of my favorite albums from 2010 would be given a remix treatment, I thought it would be best to review Bonobo’s Black Sands Remixed.
The majority of the contributing producers on this album are either based out of the United Kingdom or in some way affiliated with Ninja Tune, Bonobo’s home label since 2003. This is not surprising; Ninja Tune is one of the most prolific independent labels for Downtempo and Jazzy electronic music. The album opens up with a blooming kaleidoscopic reinterpretation of the original intro from the Black Sands by Lapalux and sets the tone for an album of remixes. The two words that come to mind are “Toxic origami,” as though Lapualux is folding the corners of the original track over one another and the colors are bleeding through to make a distinct dreamy warped reprise of a familiar tune.
Of all the songs from the original album, “Eyesdown,” featuring vocals by U.K. songstress Andreya Triana, seems to be the most popular track to receive a remix treatment, with a total of four different audio and vocal remixes by four different producers with differing styles. All of which are tolerable, some more than others, but few ever stand apart to outshine the quality of the original.
The range of sounds and styles on this album are refreshing and interesting to say the least. From the sparse but poppy 8-bit whimsicality of Banks’ remix of “The Keeper,” the fast paced looping drum and bass sound of Machinedrum’s take on “Eyesdown,” to R&B vocalist DELS’ accompanying lyrics on the original instrumental of the same song, there’s no lack of interesting diversity to tracklist of this album. But yet again, the problem is not for a lack of ambition or diversity, but for a lack of consistency of quality and complementary cohesion of sound. It’s a real mixed bag, as most remix albums are, with the sweet spots being the few scrapes of original material contributed by Bonobo himself on songs like “Brace Brace” and “Ghost Ship.” It’s hard to recommend this album to anyone who isn’t already familiar with Bonobo’s work because it doesn’t stand too well on its own.
The promise and challenge of any remix is creating a song that exists as something of quality in and of itself, while at the same time paying respect to the original composition. Many listeners look for remixes to be reinterpretations of their favorite tracks. Though this album isn’t perfect, it’s worth a listen just to pick out the few songs that you would like from this genre of music. As is often with mixed bags, there’s bound to be something for everyone in here.
Recommended tracks: Prelude (Lapalux’s Finger On The Tape Remix), The Keeper (Banks Remix), Eyesdown (ft. AndreyaTriana & DELS), Eyesdown (Machinedrum Remix), Ghost Ship, Brace Brace