Over the last few years Stephen Wilkinson has, under the Bibio guise, established himself as an artist capable of releasing albums that confidently cross musical borders, defy easy categorisation and subsume styles in a way rarely bettered by others. His last offering, 2011’s Mind Bokeh, was a superb synthesis of warped electronics, incisive hip-hop beats, inventively deployed guitars and funk/soul assimilations that positioned him almost like a multi-instrumentalist, Black Country Flying Lotus. On seventh album Silver Wilkinson however, his creative energies are directed in different, unanticipated directions that can initially be a little confounding.
The change in sound is immediately apparent; the trio of quieter, introspective tracks that open the album are much more low-key than what we’ve become used to recently. He’s always been interested in redefining himself musically and Silver Wilkinson could actually turn out to be the boldest reorienting of his sound yet (if not ultimately quite the most successful).
The First Daffodils opens the album in understated, bare fashion, and is in some ways reminiscent of his 2010 cover of Kaini Industries by Boards Of Canada. Dye The Water Green follows in similar style, with subdued vocals layered on top while the relatively muted beginning is continued by the murky underwater miniature Wulf. We have to wait until the distant and withdrawn atmospherics of Mirroring All for any overt electronic or percussive elements to emerge.
The familiar, core Bibio sound is fully re-asserted in the shape of À Tout À L’Heure. It’s at once warmly psychedelic and hazily melodic, and offers a reminder of how valued his music is by the advertising industry (and it is the closest Silver Wilkinson comes to emulating the feelgood quality of the likes of Lovers Carvings from Ambivalence Avenue and K For Kelson from Mind Bokeh).
You features the first use of sampling, a major strength of his last two albums. It injects vitality and energy to the album and twists and stretches the glossy, soulful R’n’B textures into satisfying new shapes. The later stages provide more in the way of variety – Look At Orion! incorporates a slightly strained dubstep feel before undertaking a beat-laden journey through the clouds. Business Park elicits similar results, with errant synths joining channeled percussion to produce a quite un-Bibio sound.
One of the main strengths of Mind Bokeh and Ambivalence Avenue was how they were both able to present his ideas in a fluent and flowing way. Silver Wilkinson doesn’t have their fluidity – it seems deliberately disparate and uneven. Ultimately however, comparing it to other Bibio releases is not really helpful. After several listens its subtleties are revealed and things gradually fall into place, demonstrating how it should be heard independently, and judged on its own merits.