Bibio – ‘Mind Bokeh’ (Album Review)

Bibio – Mind Bokeh

Warp

If you don’t already know, Bibio is a man named Stephen Wilkinson who makes things go boom-bap. This wasn’t always the case. His earlier work on Mush Records utilised looped guitar and analogue tape recordings to produce collections of ambient melodies and moods (see albums Fi, Hand Cranked and Vignetting the Compost for more info), a style that Wilkinson dubbed ‘saturated folk’.

Perhaps influenced by his work studying ‘sonic arts’ at university in London, the Wolves-based producer possesses a maturity of composition that is becoming more and more prevalent amongst his contemporaries, as the sampler continues its journey towards exciting and creative instrument status.

A recent move to Warp Records (a place where almost everything goes boom-bap, albeit often in a slightly wonky way) changed all of that. Wilkinson’s first effort for the label, 2009’s Ambivalence Avenue, is a thrilling collection of intriguing beat-driven music that sometimes sounds like it’s about to fall over but never quite does. That was probably a Warp influence too. Wilkinson’s earlier guitar work was not abandoned, but augmented by the prominent rhythm beds on which it sat, weaving nostalgic fingerpicked melodies with light synth work. Online book floggers Amazon even deemed ‘Lovers’ Carvings’ uplifting chords suitable to blast out all over recent adverts for its Kindle.

Mind Bokeh is a natural follow up, continuing where Ambivalence Avenue left off. Indeed, at points it heavily references its predecessor. ‘Light Sleep’ rethinks the wah-wah funk of ‘Jealous of Roses’, while ‘More Excuses’ contains lyrical echoes of ‘All the Flowers’. The cut-up beats of ‘Fire Ant’ make a reappearance on ‘Anything New’, and the sepia-toned guitar work of previous albums is back on ‘Artist’s Valley’.

This is not to say that Mind Bokeh contains nothing fresh Bibio for fans. Lengthy opener ‘Excuses’ has a steadily rising arrangement: a full 2’12 of crackling keys passes by before Wilkinson’s own voice drops over a jagged beat. ‘Pretentious’ is a change of mood; a psychotically slow, stumbling pulse built from out-of-tune piano strings and chord stabs, while ‘Take off Your Shirt’ finds the producer in full-on driving rock mode, complete with pounding cowbell and pop-punk guitar riffs. It’s a refreshing mid-album change of pace, one executed in Wilkinson’s own indomitable way.

Perhaps avoid ‘Feminine Eye’, which has such a smooth shuffle it takes you back to those days on the yacht – pina colada in hand, sky-blue suit jacket sleeves rolled up to the elbow, discussing the merits of the latest Doobie Brothers album – and it’s maybe for the best that it abruptly cuts out midway through a reverb-laden sax solo. For all of its failings however, the track is yet another example of Wilkinson’s versatility, and its short length (comfortably under the 2-minute barrier) doesn’t grate on the album’s flow.

Closer ‘Saint Christopher’ ends Mind Bokeh on a high; an insistent rhythm allowing more delicate guitar work to ebb and flow to a triumphant conclusion, and demonstrating the producer’s command over the more melodic end of Warp’s output. It’s Wilkinson’s seamless blending of live and sampled instrumentation is what sets him apart in a genre that all too often pits the two against each other, and hopefully Mind Bokeh will be the album that elevates him beyond Amazon adverts into a wider collective consciousness.

 

Mind Bokeh is out April 4th on Warp Records

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