Since 2009’s Ambivalence Avenue, Bibio’s Steven Wilkinson, the British producer and songwriter behind the project, has been quietly exploring ways to introduce pop songwriting to experimental electronic production without, well, making pop music. His experiments can be quite intriguing. Listening to a Bibio album is like a drive through an adventurously curated but well laid out safari. You move between glitchy samples, live instruments, ambient electronica, and percussive power pop: at any point, you could be listening to a nostalgic instrumental piece or a segment of dense pop electronica.
2011’s Mind Bokeh, however, saw his experimentation solidify rather awkwardly, with Wilkinson experimented in sounds outside of his element. His ambient pieces were tedious and strangely one dimensional and his pop songwriting was derivative and flat. The pop psychologist in me wants to say that he had a case of the jitters; the album was eager to please, but not ready to back up its needy attitude by staying on any one promising musical path for very long. The least interesting and most annoyingly arrogant segments were the longest, and the more intriguing and subtle areas composed a small amount of the album’s broad space.
With Silver Wilkinson, Steven seems to have regained some of his artistic focus and composure, without losing any of the breadth that he is known for. Gone is the eagerness to please that soured Mind Bokeh. Wilkinson rotates this new album around a very specific mood, a sense of bittersweet nostalgia, longing, and fading memories. The ambient sections are very reminiscent of Oneohtrix Point Never’s recent work, in that they use obscured and hazy samples sparingly to coax a soft ache to the surface, a sense akin to the wonder and fear of early childhood.
The album’s more folk inspired segments are surprisingly straightforward, but in a way that allows them the maintain a full and powerful feeling, especially when bookended by more experimental musings. Wilkinson’s broad sense of songwriting even translates into this relatively limited portion of the album, with passages ranging from the heightened drama of ’70s psych-folk icons like John Martin and Roy Harper, to the soft tension and simplicity of late Nick Drake, to the strange and continental folk of Nico’s Chelsea Girl. The combination of these various adjacent sounds leads to a listen that is subtly varied and allows Bibio’s own signatures to shine through the influences.
The more hip-hop and electronic inspired portions of the album are probably its least enjoyable. Wilkinson run’s through the same kind of uninspired Dilla-mimickery (“You”) he’s done for the past few albums and, in the process, breaks the subtle and calming mood of the rest of the LP. They are, however, a minor portion of the album’s easy 51 minutes. Silver Wilkinson might not be Bibio’s most exciting release, but if you’re in the right mood, it can be perfect.