OUT OF TIME: Modest But Great

Out Of Time (OOT) is a column that blithely ignores consumer dictates and release schedules. This time, Gary Steel picks at the scab of one of a fine album that was overshadowed by a mediocre one.

bibio-2IN MAY OF the year of our gourd 2013, Stephen Wilkinson released his seventh album as Bibio, Silver Wilkinson. Hitting the market mere weeks before another release on the Warp label, the ultra-hyped and almost universally acclaimed Boards Of Canada comeback, Tomorrow’s Harvest, Bibio’s more modest offering faded to insignificance on the electronic landscape, and few thought to mention it on their end-of-year lists.
Pity, because it’s really good, and despite what you might read elsewhere, it’s not just a rewind of the kind of pastel electro-folk of his earliest releases, but a real step forward into a reverberant dreamscape that’s part performed, part programmed, part sampled, and very much his own thing.
Those early Bibio records, as charming as they were, like so very many records in the wake of BOC (no, not Blue Oyster Cult!), obviously subscribed to the cult of Music Has The Right To Children. [And if you don’t know what that is, I suggest you go and listen to Drive By Truckers, or something]. They were scrappy affairs, where Silver Wilkinson is fully formed, characterful, and shows that Bibio/Wilkinson has come of age, at last.
It’s as though Wilkinson has trawled through a library of late 1960s and early ‘70s music, specifically folk-rock singer-songwriters, and added the lysergic sound effects that illustrate what was really going on behind the scenes back then; or perhaps, what was going on inside their acid-fried minds!
music130501_bibio_jkOr perhaps Wilkinson intended nothing of the sort, and it’s a mere coincidence that he has ended up marrying deeply ruminative, bucolic folk and introspective baroque pop with sounds that suit them: surface noise, bell-like tones, reverb, amorphous ambience, the sound of surf, and other audio verité snippets.
There’s a good amount of acoustic guitar picking, which sounds preternaturally aged. Sometimes, a languid Peter Green without the chops will turn up and twang some electric lines. Occasionally, the endless echo will revive memories of The Cocteau Twins. There are many minor chords, and nods to early ‘70s easy listening neurosis, from James Taylor to The Carpenters. But it’s not all just one thing: all of a sudden, a disco-diva cutup will erupt out of nowhere. ‘À tout à l’heure’ is a monster theme with War Of The Worlds-style synth (Jeff Wayne version) and assertive rhythms, while ‘Raincoat’ is a happy ditty about rain on a windowpane with some unexpected jazz progressions.
BibioMy favourites are ‘Wulf’ with its MOR melody and minor chords that lull you into your comfort zone, then hit you with drums that crack like splintering skeletons, and the epic ‘Look At Orion’ with its worried, dark chords and improvised looseness.
Bibio may never be one of the greats, or even aspire to be. The name sounds modest, and so does the music. But Silver Wilkinson is a wee gem, nevertheless. And even though that Boards Of Canada comeback has grown on me over time, I know which one I would prefer if push came to shove. GARY STEEL

Bibio – Silver Wilkinson (Warp)

Music Rating = 4/5
Sonic Rating = 3.5/5

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