To make good music is to be a curator of good music.
That’s what makes the Late Night Tales project so special. Its’ mandate challenges the smartest, most creative music makers—some indie, some famed—to cull their libraries, their record crates, their AirPort coiffeurs, and assemble from the choicest cuts the ultimate late night tracklist.
Late. Night. Tales. Get it?
U.K. digital sound maker Bonobo is the latest LNT participant in a line of notable beat droppers that includes Rokysopp, Air, Jamiroquai, MGMT, Fat Boy Slim, and The Arctic Monkeys — and his mix is enticing at the least, an articulate sonic statement at best.
Hear that statement yourself: Bonobo’s Late Night Tales continuous mix on Spotify.
Bonobo himself—real name Simon Green—hit the downtempo movement in the early naughts, and developed a sound that stacks emotive live instrumentation on top of intricately layered beats and samples. Take the track “Animals" from his 2010 critical-hit album, Black Sands: it’s a driving drum groove on the bottom and soul-filled brass instruments on top, most notably, at the end, where a burning, nostalgic saxophone solo smolders out the song like a cigarette neglected. Listen to dude’s albums and it becomes clear that Bonobo wants to make music you can move to, but he also wants you to feel something, the pleasure of routine (“Cirrus”), a tugging despair (“Black Sands”), and yes, every now and then, even a stab of pain.
And that brings us to his 22-song mixtape for Late Night Tales. Best described as a pensive stroll through somber reflections, this mix strings together gems of songs that swing from peaceful contemplation to latent nostalgia to the pure, simple quiet of pointed introspection.
The trick to any mixtape is sequencing, and Bonobo’s armed with a deft sense of ordering, one that masterfully amplifies, or dials down, the mood from one track to the next.
The thread begins with pianist Dustin O’Hallaran’s cinematic “An Ending, A Beginning”. It’s a mild dose of mellow, shoe-gaze sounds that’s followed immediately with the ruminating “A Calf is Born in Winter" by Texas folk band Khruangbin. Where O’Hallaran’s track paints a sedate, almost-bleak mood, Khruangbin’s acoustic-heavy number turns the dial up a step, from one of unmistakable lament to a sense of measured relief, a dare to relax in the wake of tense worry.
That’s some doomy gloom gloom, but track 3, Bonobo’s cover of Donovon’s “Get Thy Bearings”, perks up things (even though the lyrical and song content remain wistful). There’s a heartbreak track from 70’s Cali soul singer Darondo (smoother than Ron Isley covered in cocoa butter), followed tight by the spirited earth-rich tones of Nina Simone’s cover of “Baltimore”. Those songs — along with a contribution from Andrew Ashong that’s positively bouncy despite the downer message "prettiest things are sour / when the seasons change / shit don’t smell like flowers"— anchors the mixtape’s midsection, providing its’ most uptempo, funk-heavy high point.
Mixed into the remainder is a series of brass-heavy ensemble pieces (Hynoptic Brass Ensemble and Menehan Street Band) that add more life, followed by a long sequence of minimalist tomes placed to reset the emotional timbre back to zero (“South Congress”, Airhead; “Sailing Out to Sea”, Matthew Halsall) and keep it there (“Gigantic”, EDDI FRONT; “Peace Piece”, Bill Evans). Those end pieces do double work and add a bit of Washed Out-style romantics, even as they gird the tone of meditative melancholy.
If that sounds heavy, well, it’s not called Late Night Tales for nothing. And truthfully, the feat here is that Bonobo’s mix feels lighter than its’ content sounds. It rises above the somber, dark subject matter and floats into something triumphant. These sad songs, all placed together, become positive and buoyant.
That’s because Bonobo’s late nights are for confronting the dark without losing the light. It’s the kind of midnight journey we all take from time to time. And the song choices here are the best kind of bread crumbs to pull you through: they are so preternaturally beautiful played together, you’ll be propelled forward each step of the way.