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Release Date: 14th May 2013
Bibio is one of the hidden gems of contemporary alternative music. Wolverhampton-based Stephen Wilkinson flits between styles not just within albums but in the very tracks themselves, with influences spanning Nick Drake to Boards of Canada. His latest offering, Silver Wilkinson, shows a move away from the diverse pop that first brought him to a wider audience but presents a growth in sound that continues to carve a niche for himself alongside some of the finest creators of electronic music.
Ambivalence Avenue, his first LP on Warp Records and arguably his finest from a purely pop perspective, was a collage of sounds and genres that hasn't really been followed since in terms of simultaneous breadth and depth to the genres encompassed; "Jealous of the Roses" has you in a wild funk trance whilst "Abrasion" caresses you into an acoustic summer daydream. The album leaves you with a warmness rarely scavenged from what is, essentially, an electronic release.
Silver Wilkinson on the other hand, is an album of split personality. The first 5 tracks see Bibio return to a sound closer to his pre-warp material than anything on either Ambivalence Avenue or 2011's Mind Bokeh, but then simply saying that isn't quite fair on either set of releases. It's not that these songs have returned to lo-fi recordings of guitar and man, but that the pop complexities inherent so far in the Warp albums have been for the most part replaced with deeper explorations into shaping the song's mood. Every track within this first half is laced with stunning ambiance, something that had been teased through several short videos put up by Bibio of train rides and walks prior to release. For the first time a coherent mood really takes hold of the album over the individual songs, that is up until "A tout a l'heure".
"A tout a l'heure" provides the pivot for Bibio's murky folktronica to approach warmer sounds, and the listener wanting more advertisement-track fodder should look no further than this fantastic all-singing all-dancing pop song. If the whole album's a bit too much it's hard to deny this track a place amongst the best songs of this year so far. Once past the half way mark everything starts to resemble a more familiar Bibio, albeit with perhaps a greater influence from the electronic fiddles of Warp's many artists. "You" is resembles the more beat-driven songs such as "Fire Ant" and "S'vive", though not quite living up to them in terms of complexity or originality. The sample plays a larger part than in other examples which is good, as it's a fun sample, but also bad, as it means less Bibio.
If it weren't for the stunning guitar-led "You Won't Remember" holding up the back of the album, I would say that the second half is weaker than the first. As it is, Silver Wilkinson's two distinct halves are likely to divide listeners. Whether you prefer the dark Autumnal settings of the first half or the warmer sounds of Summer in the second will probably come down to your favourites off of Wilkinson's previous efforts. All in all, this is a must-listen for any Bibio fans, a worthwile exploration for any Warp acolytes but might disappoint those outside the electronic cliques that Wilkinson takes such inspiration from. This is Bibio at his technical best, but he can (and I'm sure, will) produce records better tailored for the radio in the years to come.