Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Bibio - The Green EP

With Silver Wilkinson last year, the sixth Bibio album, Stephen Wilkinson's sound claimed itself as less experimentally dazed; now more attuned to the sunny nostalgia and hushed narrative as a variant on the folk-electronic fusion. Wilkinson may, himself, be leaning towards a blurred, acoustic vibe than perhaps a lot of bands as of late have stuck to or perhaps considered. But for a producer, 2013 did at least cement Wilkinson's talent for fusing shapeless string instruments with scurrying investments in layering. The offers may not have exactly excelled or pushed Bibio's believability any higher, but neither did it land the Wolverhampton man on a square that chuted down to lower circumstances like on some snakes-and-ladder-esque chase to instilling a maximum amount of creativity, but with an important decree of conviction. The Green EP, now in 2014, demonstrates both a commitment to the established, like before, but brings with it ideas more in touch with production's ambient and spatially drawn corners, which for Bibio - on paper - is a desirably opportunistic time to demonstrate composing from more than just the lonesome folk singer-songwriter stand-point. 

For certain, this six-track EP attempts to draw space between itself and the lush, blossoming of instrumentation and effects, as was the case on Silver Wilkinson stand-out [and lead single] À tout à l'heure. Dye The Water Green (another preliminary offering from the release) does see Wilkinson tread familiar ground with gentle acoustic strums layered - like his vocals - in mass amid a kind of groggy, half-awake haze of electronic keys and distortion. What's prevalent is despite its size, the guitars remain in this controllably softened state; if anything, the rippling keys and simmered march of percussion holding more presence than the actual (centralized) strings themselves. Thereon, Bibio departs fortunately from steeping too far into this path, even if the new direction he takes, on reflection, ends up densifying his sound with atmosphere to the point it's less a humble stroll down memory lane, and more a slip back into ambiguous dreaming. There are of course the arpeggiating guitar lines that sway the listener more towards directionless space on Dinghy, but there's barely any sensual development or evolution that goes beyond just idle playfulness - Wilkinson's lack of any real chord change or shake-up of layering leaving the less-than-three-minute composition feeling still too long for what it's actually putting out sound-wise and narratively. 

But even when Bibio reintroduces vocals on Down To The Sound, no amount of familiarity with echoing, waning vocals can elevate the demo-like eventuality to Wilkinson's instrumental and notational decision-making. The benefit, and an area with which conjures more interesting looking-into, comes from A Thousand Syllables in its deep, clinching sweep of baritone strings that loop similarly in moody arpeggio's - if at a bare minimum - in front of a lightly whailing undergrowth of drone. From the off, it pushes Bibio's aesthetic into much darker and emotively tenser territory. So it's a shame that not only is this sound not pushed further in either notational or effect variation, but the song by the end of its front third deviates sharply back to a familiar recurrence of guitars and Wilkinson's vocals. And with The Spinney View Of Hinkley Point, melody is another prominent area Bibio shows some ascended focus towards with a focus on electric guitar strings and simmered percussion sounds that introduce a dynamic that, while sortful and easing, too moves away from the former blurred stance of previous. At six-and-a-half minutes, Bibio's multi-tracking and production prowess definitely shines more than the instrumentation - an assortment of guitar tones, percussion and drawn levels and positions, certainly elevates the piece off what, on the surface, remains lacking in any convincing or aspiring energy.

Thus, balancing out the efforts on shorter composition with that of more longer-winding and longer-unfolding, Bibio's efforts on The Green EP share as much merit on expanding the artist's sound both sonically and instrumentally, but also bring to light some unwanted doubt to Wilkinson's continuing struggle with keeping his music constant in substance, but not necessarily substantial in content. Where some will look to Bibio's deviation of guitar melody and sonic landscaping in its own right, as an optimistic gain, there's still enough of a to want the guy's most evocative pieces to go just that bit further to truly grab the entirety of our attention - not just as wanting more, but as eyeing something better close on the horizon. Ideally Bibio will return with something inspiring rather than exciting; as is Wilkinson's colourful palette in both traditional as well as synthetic instrumentation, it still remains a wonder to experience audibly. My concern is once this two/three year gap is over, and the next phase commences, Bibio will not just coax us into some new-found scope or intention of atmosphere, but ultimately, he'll be blinded by it.
~Jordan Helm


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