Queen Bonobo’s engaging debut Light Shadow Boom Boom unites a broad array of textures into a coherent whole. Backed by a talented young group of Northern Irish jazz musicians, her ten tracks draw together the acoustics of jazz, direct songwriting, and an expansive range of other sounds.
This eclecticism is no surprise – born in an Idaho forest, Queen Bonobo has spent a lifetime on the move, pursuing spontaneous collaboration with musicians from all corners. The album showcases less idyllic themes too, with lyrics covering depression in the family and the difficulties of radical self-acceptance in changing circumstances. But the restorative power of music making is always at the core. In her words: “the title stands for the heavens above (light), the earth below (dark), and the pulse of life throughout it all”.
‘The Lord Does What He Wants’, opens the album, placing folksy melodies over joyous chord-strums, but the upbeat feel of the instruments is tinged with escapism too (“I’m plain dysfunctional / break me so I know nothing’s permanent”). ‘Light Me Up’ moves from sultry jazz to cracking, imploring screams, and ‘Shadow’ explores other shades of contrast, with light brushes of sax giving way to lilting solos.
‘Honey’’s brief stopover in 7/4 is balanced by the simple, earthy percussion of ‘Boom Boom’, reminiscent of Ibeyi’s back-to-nature approach. Inspired by the Appalachian Mountains, its signature line may serve as the album’s best summary: “My energy’s infectious, connected with the earth”. ‘Spin Me’ is unquestionably the album’s most intriguing track. Half-sketched melodies are pulled apart by a dream-swirl of languid synths, the music somehow seeming to rotate around itself without having a clear centre point.
The natural sincerity of Queen Bonobo’s voice superbly ties together the variety, elastically summoning energy and introspection in a fine balance. The album is a clear product of its situation – a collection of promising young musicians trying a range of styles on for size. This is an intriguing debut that bodes well for the future of all the artists at it’s core.
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