Bibio Silver Wilkinson
Six LPs into the career of prolific British producer Stephen Wilkinson (a.k.a. Bibio), and his palette seems to have solidified. Any fan knows what to expect on a given Bibio record: Pastoral English folk processed through analog tape, chopped up and threaded into a canvas of warm pop, carefully constructed melodies, and beat experiments. Silver Wilkinson, the artist's latest album, continues to refine the aesthetic; the record fits neatly in the progression of his two most recent efforts, the disjointed Mind Bokeh and 2009's excellent Ambivalence Avenue. But while Silver Wilkinson is mostly more of what's come to be expected from the artist, it manages to sound more like a true psych-pop record than Bibio has ever come before.
Opening track "The First Daffodils" is elegiac, with plucked strings drifting across tape crackle. It evokes visuals of plants rising from the soil and maturing in fast, high-frame-rate motion—which is a fitting intro, as bucolic imagery abounds on Silver Wilkinson. (Even the cover art is a floral decoupage.) From there, Bibio meanders into more folk-oriented landscapes, with "Dye the Water Green" showing off his gift for composing sweet, dusky melodies. Wilkinson is an effective singer when he wants to be, and mostly is when he's in a frictionless, AM-radio mode. As he urges us to "skip a stone" and sings that "somebody longs for you," it begins to feel as if the track exists wholly out of time. It's easy to imagine Bibio's audience making daisy chains as he strums the music in a lush meadow. "Mirroring It All" broaches similar territory with help from some reverb-heavy percussion. Together, the two make for a good microcosm of Wilkinson's current headspace; he's plainly more interested in mellow ditties than his Dilla-indebted beats of yore.
Though Silver Wilkinson is Bibio's calmest record, there are a few moments that explore more energetic sounds. The album's most most upbeat track, "À tout à l'heure" (French for "a moment ago" or "in a moment," depending on the context), is also one of the album's near misses. Its funky groove and schlocky synths never quite stick the way they're meant to. "Business Park" is another strange detour, an instrumental synth cut that doesn't seem to know quite where it's headed. For an 11-track LP, it's unfortunate that Bibio spends so long treading water. "Look for Orion!," on the other hand, finds him returning to his bread & butter. The seven-and-a-half-minute track is beautifully constructed, and recalls the Boards of Canada-inspired fare with which the producer made his name on earlier albums. It's wonderful hearing how Wilkinson can turn even the most understated beat into a preternaturally calming (but far from boring) soundscape. Like some of the best of Bibio, it's the sort of song that might be best listened to during a summertime jog through the park.
While there are few surprises on Silver Wilkinson, the record itself is a pleasant listen—so much so, that it'd be easy to forgive the lack of risks Bibio has taken. It's clear that Wilkinson is accomplishing exactly what he wants, even if his decision to fully embrace folk and AM-radio pop may leave some listeners wanting more in the way of beats. It's a better idea to approach the album for what it is: a pretty, if somewhat slight take on sun-saturated psychedelia.
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