Sail From This Life – Queen Bonobo (EP review)

Two years on from her intriguing debut (Light Shadow Boom Boom), Queen Bonobo’s second record – Sail From This Life – builds on similarly vivid sound textures. This time around, Idaho-born, globally-travelled vocalist Maya Goldblum stretches out even further, drawing from wider sources while delving deeper into the longform and freeform. While the EP contains just three tracks, their rhapsodic, song-within-song nature maintains an expansive, explorative atmosphere: it feels much longer than it is, in the best sense of the phrase.


Her adept multi-timbred inclinations are evident right from the opener (Throw Me In), with off-kilter acoustic guitar strums placed upwind of leathery cellos and clattering kit drums – reminiscent, perhaps, of being thrown around in a small rowing-boat by some particularly melodious waves (“…I believe in myself, when I’m drowning…”). Strident, soaring vocal melodies duck and dive through the track’s ever-shifting mix, moving seamlessly into the next (Octopus Lady), tempting major, minor, and many shades inbetween. Complex human sentiments – acceptance, forgiveness, restlessness – are coloured with vulnerability, as lyrical refrains swirl in quick sync with the roving, winding essence of the compositions around them (“…my fuckups make me who I am…”).

The final track of the trio (Summer Drift) takes us further ashore, trading the opener’s smooth maritime grooves for the decidedly more inland rhythms of Dilla and co. There’s a special magic when the looping slop is served up by live humans rather than samples – but this visit to stretch-out territory is short-lived, with the entry of choral harmonies instantly cooling down the embers in a manner akin to Kendrick Lamar’s similarly redemptive Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst. At the close, the sonic swells fall away gently, dissipating via the subtraction of instruments rather than emotional intensity – before finally fading out to an unexpected…well, I’ll let you find out for yourself.


While the EP presents a reassuring plethora of near-familiarities, the overall blend is unique in its balance – John Martyn’s folksy double bass arrangements don’t get so unpredictable, and Joni Mitchell’s jazzy vocalism tends to stay closer to songwriting’s well-established ‘verse-chorus-bridge’ ingredients – while Alice Coltrane’s rubato harp-chant soundscapes rarely feature impassioned vocal choruses (and, though Nick Drake may share some of the same introverted acoustic sincerity, I doubt he ever sunk his teeth into too many hard-edged neo-soul grooves…).


Once again, Queen Bonobo has assembled a fascinating selection of sounds, adeptly marshalling then in service of bold ideas and expansive musical aspirations. An enchanting EP, made all-the-more impressive by its status as a signal of even grander designs which doubtless lie ahead. Long may the journey continue…


  • Musicians: Maya Goldblum (voice, guitar, composition, production), Jack Charles Kelly (double bass, production), Andrew McCoubrey (drums, percussion, production, mixing), James Anderson (drums, percussion), Joleen McLaughlin (harp), Neil Burns (rhodes)

George Howlett is a London-based musician and writer. I play guitar, tabla, and santoor, loosely focusing on jazz, rhythm, and global improvisation. Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the human voices, cultures, and passions behind them.

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Recently I’ve worked long-term for Darbar, Guitar World, and Ragatip, and published research into tuning and John Coltrane’s raga notes. I’ve written for Jazzwise, JazzFM, and The Wire, and also record, perform, and teach in local schools. Site menu above, follow below, & get in touch here!


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