|Last Tuesday, Stephen Wilkinson, better known as Bibio, finally released his 3rd full-length Vignetting the Compost on Mush Records. I’ve been feverishly awaiting this album since rumors of it first began circulating last fall, making due with the tease of his absurdly intricate Clark remix from 2007’s Ted EP. If you’ve never checked out Bibio before (I forgive you in advance) this is a great opportunity to get acquainted, because here he makes good on all the potential his past recordings hinted at.
Bibio took his moniker from the fly lure his Father would use during their outdoor excursions together, and the rest is history. Having studied “sonic arts” in college, and being an avid electronica fan, it’s obvious that his unexpected output is equally influenced by the native geography of those fishing trips. Wilkinson grew up in Black Country, England, and pays homage to this lore-soaked land with his idyllic sound-scapes (and dope Flickr account). In fact, this album is so made for outdoor listening that it pains me to hear this knowing fully well that it’s 23 below outside so I can’t go scrape Pippi Bongstockings and frolic to the nearest woods.
Upon the release of his first album Fi in 2004, Bibio was famously championed by his long-time heroes the Boards of Canada as being “the antidote to the modern laptopia of pristine electronic music,” (no pressure, dude). A hefty claim, but Fi certainly did carve out a unique spot in Mush’s roster. Less akin to the modern process meditations of Fennesz and Tim Hecker, Wilkinson reached further back to channel the likes of John Fahey and his protégé Leo Kottke in achieving his signature wall of sound. The opener in particular, “Bewley in White,” plays like a smudged out-take from the more tender moments of Kottke’s 6 and 12-String Guitar.
Emerging from the haze with 2006’s Hand Cranked, the wagon-drawn pace picks up speed. The ambient interludes that comprised half his debut are omitted in favor of a bustling mix of phased acoustic picking and parlor-style piano. On “Above the Rooftop,” Wilkinson drops the guitar and tickles the cracked ivory keys exclusively, narrating some turn-of-the-century river town’s morning commute.
Vignetting the Compost successfully negotiates the territories of his two previous efforts with dense polyphonic riffs that both compliment and antagonize each other, quavering like an over-cranked machine. It is on this album that we learn of Wilkinson’s vocal abilities, which fit snugly between 60’s folk-rock and contemporary warblers like Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. The album’s single, “Mr. & Mrs. Compost,” even hints at singer-songwriting prowess, with his voice confidently navigating the horizontal growth of his stark finger picking.
Wilkinson’s love-affair with electronic music does bleed in as the album progresses, but never takes the foreground. His electronica influence rests like a thin layer of emulsion atop the sepia-toned guitar waltzes. The album’s charm is in it’s humble ambition, and while it hints at the transcendental, Bibio is much more concerned with earthly comforts. On “Amongst the Bark and Fungus,” the contrast between the sharp twang of the guitar and the muffled synths create a deeply Proustian, womb-like sensation enhanced by a strong emphasis on location recording, and application of background atmospherics, that create a delicate room noise to frame the compositions, or as the album suggests, vignettes. - The Decibel Tolls