Styles: electro-pop, electronic
Others: Four Tet, Boards of Canada, Toro y Moi, Stars
There's an extra criterion at work when we assess electronic music, especially of the non-dancefloor-oriented variety: an expectation of innovation beyond our basic desire for newness. For example, while garage rock revivalists propagated and prospered through the 90s and 00s even after decades of stylistic recycling, UK garage saw a high-speed meiotic division into 2-step, bassline, UK funky, grime, dubstep, and sundry other subgenres. If a fresh-faced beatsmith makes a record redolent of Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works 85-92, it isn't tribute or traditionalism — it's stale. Granted, once we enter “electro-pop” territory, nostalgia becomes unavoidable. If Cut Copy can get away with sounding like a modernized Men At Work, then we obviously have no major issue with retreads, assuming a certain quota of hooks per song is met.
Mind Bokeh, the fifth full-length from British Warp Records acolyte Stephen Wilkinson, alias Bibio, is an ugly stepchild of a record, neither diverting enough to work as pop nor novel enough to satisfy as pure electronic music. Wilkinson's Ambivalence Avenue, which found unforeseen success upon its release two years ago, melded softly mechanized rhythms with a base of unalloyed folk and a dash of Dilla-esque choppery, yielding a sound better described by the dodgy designation of “folktronica” than anything that came before. In the intervening years, Bibio has sought to provide that georgic disc with a dark twin, a “nighttime” album, to disastrous effect.
Let's go from worst to best, shall we? “Take Off Your Shirt,” an intemperate dip into heavily guitarred cock-rock, lands on the wrong side of Pretty Boy Floyd, shattering any notion of consistent tone shortly before the record's midpoint. “Feminine Eye” sounds like it was pulled from the ass-end of outmoded Torontonian indie-pop band Stars' discography, from the affectedly louche vocal delivery to the droopy AM synth twinkle. In a year when Destroyer's Kaputt provided us with a model for the successful incorporation of chintzily dated smooth sax and flute, Wilkinson's ill-considered application of said instruments feels particularly inexcusable. Whereas Ambivalence Avenue felt livable to a fault, Mind Bokeh's attempts at songwriting more often vex than gratify.
Opener “Excuses” occupies a much murkier space than the album that follows, slowly winding from rainy patter to stammering downtrodden chorus before loosing a respectably bumpable beat shot through with ricocheting bleeps. This track alone brings to mind any sort of “Bokeh,” the photographic lingo for the aesthetically pleasing spots of blurred light that coalesce to form a picture's out-of-focus background, or proves worthy of the Warp legacy. Bibio aims to express an exquisitely blurry mind-state; instead, his lack of focus conjures only a musty shadow of the varied, sportive electro-pop album he strains to create.
03. Anything New
04. Wake Up!
05. Light Seep
06. Take Off Your Shirt
07. Artists' Valley
08. K is for Kelson
09. Mind Bokeh
10. More Excuses
11. Feminine Eye
12. Saint Christopher