English Producer Swaps Understated Electronica For Jazz-Synth Jams

Bibio
Mind Bokeh
Warp Records

English producer Stephen Wilkinson (aka Bibio) began his recording career with 2005‘s fi, a collection of gently processed acoustic guitar compositions. Six years and five albums later, Wilkinson’s latest release shows he’s in an entirely new place. Though he remains dedicated to the detailed textures and analog recording that made his earlier albums so rewarding, Mind Bokeh finds Wilkinson embracing a louder, more eclectic approach to electronic music.

Incorporating African funk, smooth jazz and the kind of laid-back, metronomic L.A. beat music normally associated with producers like Flying Lotus, the 12 tracks on Mind Bokeh introduce a refreshing synthesis of contemporary electronica and the pastoral textures found on Bibio’s past work. “Wake Up!,” for instance, pairs an Eastern string riff with a crisp bass and vulnerable, lilting vocal melodies. Album standout “K Is For Kelson” is an afro-beat groove the likes of what might happen if Fela Kuti were enlisted to soundtrack a children’s cartoon.

Bokeh is set apart from the works of Bibio’s contemporaries by Wilkinson’s  lush layering of sounds. “Anything New” begins as a typical sample-based dance track, then suddenly veers into a soaring jazz-fusion flute melody that melds with the song’s compressed funk samples.

The same mastery of textural interplay also shows up on opener “Excuses,” where a massive, fuzzy beat collides with a wall of reverbed-out synthesizer and field recordings. The beat drops like any formulaic, post-millennial dubstep groove, but the tracks shine with ingenuity when coupled with Wilkinson’s soundscapes. Often, the recordings feel as if they’ve been woven together from our own nostalgic sonic memories — from the sound of rain falling to the intimate plucking of a steel-string guitar.

There are plenty of electronic producers with an ear for space and composition, but few integrate crisp and disparate textures with such effortlessness. Wilkinson’s newfound dialog between organic and synthetic proves both completely innovative and completely compelling. (8/10)

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