U.K. artist Stephen Wilkinson, better known to the world as Bibio, has been consistently spinning out into new territory ever since he dropped his first forays into fractured laptop-folktronic exploration with fi. In 2009 he released two records, though the boom-bap laced bedroom pop jangle of Ambivalence Avenue most potently displayed Wilkinson’s strengths as a songwriter and producer. All who heard that record couldn’t help but be excited at where he was headed next, a feeling that was stoked and fanned by some mouthwatering album snippets released by Warp Records a few months ago. Yet, as the dust settles on Mind Bokeh, it seems less have been swayed by Bibio’s most recent rebranding, which finds his songcraft reaching out beyond his comfort zone into more varied and pop-driven territory.
From the outset I’ll just come out and say that I think Mind Bokeh is a pretty good record, yet one that is not without its problems. Though some of us may have mistakenly been expecting an even more accomplished masterpiece, instead Bibio’s push to diversify his sound has the occasional feel of an artist perhaps pushing too far and floundering a bit in unfamiliar sonic zones. When Wilkinson is on, he’s on — from the hazy, lo-fi funk of “Pretentious,” to the smooth chopped-up soul of “Anything New,” to the buoyant joy of “K is for Kelson,” to the Gold Panda-like haze of “Saint Christopher,” there are plenty of solid tracks on Mind Bokeh. Yet other songs find Wilkinson unwilling to decide on an identity — “Artist’s Valley” starts off well enough, but then spills into a second half that fails to complement the rest of the composition — while others go on a little too long or are unconvincing from the get go. “Take Off Your Shirt” is the obvious stinker here; I don’t even dislike it all that intensely, but this is just something that Bibio should clearly stay away from… please leave this kind of infectious, charming indie pop to Phoenix? K, thanks.
Ultimately, I can say Mind Bokeh is a record worth checking out — even it takes a few listens to start appreciating it. Though its pastiche of ideas and styles never comes together fully, the missteps here serve as a reminder that Bibio is an artist constantly moving in new directions. His willingness to take chances may yield mixed results now and then, but even amongst his weaker efforts there remains a thread of charm and emotional depth that provides enough reward to justify spending some time with them. One can’t always expect consistency. And where’s the adventure in that anyhow?
Stream: Bibio – “K is for Kelson”