There aren't very many who would envy Simon Green's current position. Sure, the acclaim he's enjoyed in the wake of 2010's Black Sands has been huge, but coming off a career high like that is never easy. Artists who move in the same circles as Bonobo rely on word of mouth more than anything else; even though he's become one of the flagship artists for Ninja Tune in recent years, the real-life impact of his music generally matters more than sales figures - and boy, did Black Sands make a connection. It's only now that Green's had time to sit down and figure out what to do next that he's really hit his stride. Albums like this one's predecessor don't come along very often, and it's rare that artists of this type would release two excellent albums in a row, but that's exactly what he's gone and done. The North Borders an overtly powerful record, but it does have power of another sort - staying power. It runs to almost a full hour, but its scope is so wide that as soon as 'Pieces' fades away, you'll want to start back at the beginning with 'First Fires'.

Actually, scratch that: you'll be lucky if you don't end up getting stuck on 'First Fires'. It's an absolutely gorgeous piece of music, its understated feel setting the tone for the rest of the album, featuring a soulful vocal performance from Grey Reverend as well as some jaw-dropping strings. It sets the bar so high that you wonder how the rest of the album's going to live up to it, but there are plenty of moments that match it, in musical invention if not in grandeur. Lead-off track 'Cirrus' balances the album's delicate and expansive sides to great effect, and the Erykah Badu-featuring 'Heaven for the Sinner' is one of the most laid-back moments on the album, but has a serious impact. Indeed, all the guest spots work well, each showing off a different aspect of Green's repertoire.

On the whole, The North Borders works so well as an album that its 58 minutes fly by - even though Green never opts for anything that goes beyond his mid-tempo comfort zone. As said, it's not a powerful record in that sort of way, but it's damn well irresistible otherwise. I should know; I'm a sucker for the sort of relaxed R&B that Green ventures into some of the songs with vocals - in this instance, I'm quite fond of Szjerdene's voice, as she adds a couple of extra layers to the tracks she features on, namely 'Towers' and penultimate track 'Transits'. It's easy to get lost in, and does away with mid-tempo pleasantries, pushing the boundaries of Green's sound in other ways instead. The North Borders is just as good as its predecessor, and could see Green's word-of-mouth success grow even further - in fact, don't be surprised if it does.