Bibio, Silver Wilkinson

Brian Howe

By Brian Howe

on 05.14.13 in Reviews

The English musician Stephen Wilkinson, who records as Bibio, has blazed the meandering creative trail of a true muse-chaser, leaving just enough dropped crumbs — detuned pastoral guitars, snippets of nature recordings, tape wobbles — for us to follow along. His career began with three introverted electro-acoustic albums for Mush Records that sounded like Boards of Canada gone Brit-folk, and his artistic breakthrough came when he moved to Warp for 2009′s Ambivalence Avenue, an unexpectedly bold album of jubilant glitch-soul, clever indie-pop and moody folk that triangulated an undreamt-of sweet spot between J Dilla, Yo La Tengo and Nick Drake.

Rediscovering his footing

But Bibio backslid on 2011′s frequently incomprehensible Mind Bokeh, which seemed unfocused rather than eclectic, and his reliable taste faltered (“Take Off Your Shirt” showed that while he could ably explore many different musical byways, the one leading from Cheap Trick to Free Energy was not among them). Happily, the producer rediscovers his footing on Silver Wilkinson. While it doesn’t scale the effortless heights of Ambivalence Avenue, it’s a path out of the wilderness that leads back to more generous, agreeable clearings.

One curious thing about the record is how long it seems to take to get going. The first two songs return to the crepuscular folk of Ambivalence Avenue, though neither is as haunting as “The Palm of Your Wave.” The submerged warble of “Wulf” harks back further, to early albums such as Fi. It makes for a long and vague entrance. The album abruptly wakes up halfway through “Mirroring All,” when its reverb-brushed glide lunges into a whorled beat. Afterward, the folk material sounds fuller and richer (“Sycamore Silhouetting”), the pop more vibrant and catchy (“À Tout À L’heure”). Juicy sped-up soul makes a fine showing in “You,” and two muscular electronic tracks bring this slow-starting record to an exhilarating conclusion.