Self-taught producer and multi-instrumentalist Bibio (aka Stephen Wilkinson) has made quite a name for himself as a folk meets electronic craft-maker. A student of such 90s acts like Aphex Twin and especially, Boards of Canada; Wilkinson released his sunny day soundscapes earlier this year with Vignetting the Compost. And now, following in the footsteps of his biggest influences, he has joined the eclectic Warp label for his second and much better album of 2009, Ambivalence Avenue.
Compost‘s lo-fi sound was a memorable feeling from that album and here, Wilkinson has taken things up a few steps with Avenue‘s soul-drenched, beat-heavy and toe-tapping music. The focus on this album is on the music’s ready-for-headphones-for-a-walk-in-the-city feel. An even balance of beats with vocals and a few trademark instrumentals bless the sonic spectrum Wilkinson was striving for. Not only is this a brilliant album but it is an outstanding collection of styles.
Steadying the realm of conscious beat-nodding, “Cry! Baby!” is a beat-inducing instrumental that calls on atmospheric shrills and a repetitive guitar. Sprinkled with the right amount of flair and attitude, it’s ambience without ever being prolonged. There is also the cheering guitar on “Lovers’ Carvings.” Refreshingly radiant, it beams in the limelight with an electric pulse. And the musical support is found in a rhythmically powdered breakdown in the middle section. Hand claps, an R&B piano and Wilkinson’s first-rate singing explore the tree these lovers carve their initials into and when the disco synths arrive, it’s sublime.
It makes perfect sense that Wilkinson chose this route at this point in his career. Many desired change after a run of the mill that had reached empty. Successful in keeping fans, Bibio the artist wasn’t gaining new ones with every release as he had hoped for. In this respect, a label change was a stroke of genius and Wilkinson sounds more creative, fresher and better than ever.
“Jealous of Roses” sounds like a cut straight out of the 70s with a funky bass line and bumping beats. And not only has Wilkinson’s voice gotten significantly better in the span of a few months, but he sounds assured and displays a wealthy amount of musical prowess in his delivery. And the looping effect on “Fire Ant” is where great producers like Jay Dee can be made proud. Wilkinson sounds like he’s been doing this for decades with the ability in which he maneuvers the vocal “ohs,” the terrific snares and the inspired melodies. In many regards, this could be seen as a purely hip-hop album on many levels.
Take the chill out on “S’vive” and tell me that’s not one of the best soul-grooved dance-happy tracks of the year. And the ensuing reservations on “The Palm of Your Wave” make for such richly relaxing music, with the tenderness of Wilkinson’s singing and his solemn guitar, it’s a winning combination.
From the opening strands of the title track, with those stupendous beats and keyboards, Bibio sounds like a changed man. One thing’s for sure, Wilkinson sounds entirely enjoyable on this album. Whether it’s him enjoying himself in crafting this music and/or the fact that Ambivalence Avenue sounds that much more enjoyable than its 2009 predecessor, something’s obviously working. This is exactly what many were seeking from Wilkinson, including yours truly, let’s plan for more of the same because this is excellent music.