West Midlands producer Stephen Wilkinson's 2009 Warp Records debut, Ambivalence Avenue, was a leap forward from the three albums he released previously for the Mush label, adding crunchy hip-hop beats and laid-back grooves to his existing sonic palette of bubbling ambient synths and electronically modified guitar. His latest offering, Mind Bokeh (a Japanese word referring to the out-of-focus area of a photograph) doesn't stray too far from that template, but it does mark a shift away from the pastoral folk stylings that have defined Bibio's output thus far, largely forgoing acoustic six-string strumming in favour of cut-and-paste psychedelic experimentation and confident, poppy melodies.
The album's opening track, "Excuses," provides an easy entry point into Bibio's world, with Wilkinson's soft, distorted vocals buried under a collage of chiming keys, electronic bleeps and glitch-hop beats that echo those of label-mate Prefuse 73. "Pretentious" and "Anything New," meanwhile, take a turn into Flying Lotus territory; fluttering harps and chopped-up flutes rubbing up against dirty funk synths. "Feminine Eye" is more chilled-out, a Dilla-inspired head-nodder complete with brass stabs. There are even nods to glo-fi artists like Toro Y Moi and Washed Out in "Light Sleep," a woozy blend of wah-wah guitar, squelchy Moog sounds and distant, tinny drum machine beats.
Despite his obvious mastery of electronic textures, it's the moments when Wilkinson draws inspiration from further afield that provide Mind Bokeh's highlights. "Wake Up"'s main hook comes courtesy of what sounds like a hurdy-gurdy; better still is "K For Kelson," where Wilkinson's vibrant guitar lines and enthusiastic percussion captures the joyous energy of African high-life. The rocking "Take Off Your Shirt," which pairs hair-metal riffage with pounding drums, is a move that initially sticks out like a misguided sore thumb, but eventually emerges as the album's most overt pop song.
Fittingly, though, the best is saved for last, with "Saint Christopher"'s fluid, overlapping guitars rippling across a minimal techno pulse; it's a trance-inducing teaser of what Wilkinson might create if he decided to make an album for the feet rather than the head. Mind Bokeh is another giant step for Bibio, and could yet prove to be the gateway to that much-anticipated dance floor record, but until then his place alongside the likes of Caribou—as a forward-thinking artist successfully combining experimental electronica with traditional song structures and a strong pop sensibility—is secure.
- Published /
Tue / 5 Apr 2011
- Words /