A sample of rain falling. Heavily filtered piano. The rain falls harder, forms puddles. Metal blades sharpen and fade back and forth between channels. Underneath all of this quiet noise a base line forms, coalesces with a tinny drum and synth sample, and at 2:15, Stepehen Wilkinson croons “How was I supposed to know?” The song drones on, vocals distort, beats rise high in the mix, then drop back and make room for more alien noises. It’s a very somber affair. Then the song shifts gears, turns around and runs the other direction: the beat drops heavier, synths cascade, glitch runs rampant. Wilkinson stops singing and samples someone else speaking. “Excuses” is the kind of crescendo-heavy, loud/soft opening track that sets the bar so high for the rest of the album that it’s ludicrous to think any other song will match its immediacy, its pure listening pleasure. Two tracks later, Bibio puts on his best DOOM mask and does it again with “Anything New”.
When Bibio released Ambivalence Avenue, it marked a turning point in his musicianship. He sang with a little bit more confidence, blended folk, ambient and tropicalia like a delicious milkshake of sounds and crafted the perfect summer album that no one really heard, aside from music critics and blog nerds. At its best, Ambivalence Avenue was (and still is) the kind of ambiguous electronic album that is easy to listen to without sounding derivative or thin.
Mind Bokeh continues the aesthetic setforth on Ambivalence Avenue, albeit with added pop consciousness. Wilkinson is aiming for the stars on this one, and it shows. “K Is for Kelson” is fresh as squeezed fruit: a perfect reminder late in the album that he hasn’t forgotten the shimmery sounds of his earlier work, taking hints from The Very Best, Beck circa One Foot in the Grave and his own wispy, feather-light vocals floating above it all.
Then, in the middle of the album, Wilkinson does what his music’s been hinting at for three years: he records a rock song that takes hints as much from Rihanna’s “Shut Up and Drive” as it does from late ’90s spaz-rock. “Take Off Your Shirt” is a guitar- and vocal-centric rocker played with such force that one wonders why Wilkinson hasn’t been singing this way all along. Unfortunately, that vocal trend doesn’t continue with the rest of the album, as reverb washes over the vocals again after “Take Off Your Shirt” finishes ripping through your speakers.
“Artist’s Valley” starts the album’s second half on a somber note: string samples echo behind glitch beats and a shimmery guitar line. It chugs along and after a few minutes you almost forget your listening to music: the mind wanders, idle thoughts dominate. The track slowly fades out and bursts into “K Is for Kelson”. It’s a well-executed turn late in an album full of satisfying moments. It seems Stephen Wilkinson has moved past his love for Boards of Canada and begun to define a sound all his own. It’s spastic, rollicking, shimmery, sample-heavy, groovy and–most of all–infectious. Bibio is a kind of pop-artist only the 21st century could produce.
Mind Bokeh deserves a large audience. It may not be as wildly experimental as some hoped for, and may not make as many dramatic twists and turns as its predecessor, but what it does do, it does with acumen. Mind Bokeh is a pop album in the best sense of the word: it’s fun to listen to whether you’re at the beach or in a club on the dancefloor. It doesn’t make any grand statements about electronic music and doesn’t eschew taste for artistic credibility. Instead, it bumps hard for 52 minutes. Turn up the volume and keep dancing, summer is just around the corner.