Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Seasonally Effective

Ambivalence Avenue
The press materials for Bibio's fourth LP claim that his switch from the Mush label to Warp "reflects a difference in musical output." This is one of those rare instances in which the PR one-sheet is correct.

Bibio, aka Stephen Wilkinson, sings on the majority of the 12 songs comprising Ambivalence. Granted, he uses his voice as another instrument most of the time, masking the clarity of his lyrics, but it's a big step for a man who previously hid behind his hypnotic guitar exercises. The bigger change here is the move toward actual songwriting.

Previous compositions relied heavily on Bibio's brassy guitar picking, looped into brittle melodic cycles. They were not without their charms, but here he's opened up the melodies and stretched them out, creating a broader spectrum of moods and pushing himself into unexpected territory. (His Curtis Mayfield falsetto ribbons around a freeze-dried funk in "Jealous of the Roses.")

The experimental aspects of his work -- field recordings, salvaged equipment not necessarily designed for professional use -- are all still in place. What's different is that he wields them better here. Chopped up recordings of children's voices stutter through the first half of "Fire Ant" and the separation between digital, analog and purely organic instruments is pleasantly, deliberately blurred.

Ambivalence Avenue shifts easily from sun-warmed music to fly kites by ("Lovers' Carvings" and the title track) to autumnal psych-folk ("The Palm of Your Wave" "Abrasion") while still leaving room for sampler & drum machine fun.

Reference materials: Calibrate your interest based on enthusiasm for Boards of Canada, Koushik and loads of other musicians who successfully dress muffled hip-hop beats in psychedelic finery. Or if you liked the direction J Dilla was taking before his death (e.g. "Nothing Like This") you might find new joys in Bibio's music.