Bibio caps off what may prove to be the best year of his life with The Apple and the Tooth, a well-deserved victory lap and a celebration of his new identity.
One year ago, Bibio was scenery, something you’d let linger on the player when you didn’t want the music to pull any stunts. He’d already released two fine albums of treated folk guitar loops, hold everything, and when this February's Vignetting the Compost grew Bibio’s ambitions by about six centimeters I was ready to believe he was going to stay bundled up in his hidey hole niche forever. Whoops. From Vignetting the Compost to the ravishing Ovals and Emeralds EP to Ambivalence Avenue -- 2009’s sweetest surprise -- Bibio evolved at warp speed and utilized his matchless guitar tones to embrace nothing less than the future of electronic music. And now he caps off what may prove to be the best year of his life with The Apple and the Tooth, a well-deserved victory lap and a celebration of his new identity.
Part of this identity has to do with fluxion in and of itself, the steadfast refusal to be pegged (how’s that for a quick turnaround?), and it’s made his most recent work supremely inviting to remixers who can glom onto whichever side of him they’d like. Seven low-to-high-profile acts -- Clark, Wax Stag, Eskmo, Letherette, the Gentleman Losers, Lone, and Keaver & Brause -- have done exactly that with most of Ambivalence Avenue, although their fidelity to the templates varies. Letherette’s version of “Lovers’ Carvings”, for instance, uses almost nothing from the original, vaporizing its vocals but borrowing the melody directly from DJ Cam’s “Dieu Reconnaitra Les Siens” (which I’m sure was taken from somewhere else). Keaver & Brause erase the last 95% of “Fire Ant” and write their own instro-hip-hop breakdown even further in the vein of Mike Slott and Hudson Mohawke than “Fire Ant” already was. Clark, in his reliably tricked-out manner, cuts poor “S’Vive” into itty bitty pieces until you can’t even tell what’s what.
On the more faithful side, Wax Stag streamlines “Sugarette” by puffing up the synthesizers and keeping the beat largely as an anchor, and Finland’s the Gentleman Losers soften the texture of “Haikuesque” considerably, moving it away from the stringy treatments Bibio is still in the questionable habit of employing. Bibio himself offers a remix of “The Palm of Your Wave” that stretches out the original to twice its length and carries the former interlude all the way to the finish line. Only Lone’s contribution fails, with its chintzy drum kits, laggard rhythms and nausea-inducing mixing levels. The minute-long “All the Flowers” was ripe for the retooling, and it sort of sounds like a Lone song already, so it was his to lose. Oh well.
The real treasures aren’t the remixes anyway -- they’re the four new songs Bibio has up his sleeve and includes at the start of the record. The title track takes the prize, working a jumpy flute duet into a hip-hop/funk interpretation of the Doobie Brothers. It segues all too naturally into “Rotten Rudd”, which makes me think of the folk music Guillermo Scott Herren might have written if he’d taken his head out of the clouds for a minute. “Bones & Skulls” and “Steal the Lamp” move into more heavily electronic territory; the latter slinks like a desert serpent for a painfully quick two minutes before an unholy mess of breakbeats squashes everything and brings the track lumbering to its conclusion. Is this Bibio telling us he’s done with electronic music? What’s next up for him? Who knows, and I’m not about to conjecture because I already made that mistake once. Best just to hitch a ride on his sporty hay wagon and see where he takes us.