Stephen Wilkinson, birth name of Bibio, was initially signed to Mush Records at the suggestion of Boards of Canada’s Marcus Eoin. He recorded three albums of hazy, ambient, pastoral folk and began incorporating his own vocals on Hand Cranked, his second album for the label. But now he's signed on to Warp for Ambivalence Avenue. While Warp -- once primarily known as an IDM giant (Aphex Twin, Autechre, BoC) -- would have been a good fit for Bibio all along (especially considering who “discovered” him), Ambivalence Avenue proves to be an appropriate transition album while also reflecting the broad scope of the label's current roster.
With each release, Wilkinson has become more confident in his songwriting and vocal delivery. And even though his songs have often bared a semblance to folk music, he's never compromised his experimental approach to audio processing and recording. Indeed, Ambivalence Avenue plays out like a carefully crafted mix tape rather than the traditional concept of an album – there’s cohesion in tone and feel, but no two consecutive songs on the album are stylistically similar.
The excellent title track contrasts breezy vocals with drums that puncture deep into the mix, a combination that probably shouldn’t sound as great as it does. Immediately following is a straight-up funk-pastiche, replete with wah-laden guitar, a groovy bass line, and falsetto vocal harmonies. After a brief 60s-folk interlude leads you into thinking that you've got the album figured out, the bass-heavy “Fire Ant” bursts forth, sounding like a Prefuse 73 B-side. It fades out with mangled field recordings, as the soft, melancholic “Haikuesque (When She Laughs)” drifts in and proffers a change of pace, ending with sounds of children playing and a man praying for forgiveness. The album's evocative found sounds and obscure field recordings enhance its dreamy, surreal atmosphere, often providing nice segues between wildly disparate tracks.
Radical stylistic turnarounds continue through the album’s conclusion, and this restless genre exploration keeps the album from stagnating. Even Bibio’s approach to the folk-leaning numbers has changed – “The Palm of Your Wave,” for instance, is a sparse, unprocessed recording of Wilkinson and guitar, which contrasts heavily to the “distant field recording” sound pervading past records. It seems the switch from Mush to Warp not only fostered further artistic experimentation, but it's also given Wilkinson the confidence to sing without hiding behind production techniques. Yes, Ambivalence Avenue is an album that defies expectations, and it is also Bibio’s most creative and penetrating release yet.
1. Ambivalence Avenue
2. Jealous of Roses
3. All the Flowers
4. Fire Ant
5. Haikuesque (When She Laughs)
7. Lover's Carvings
10. The Palm of Your Wave
11. Cry! Baby!