Album Review: Bibio – Ribbons

Bibio - Ribbons Artwork

Bibio returns with a new album, Ribbons. It features 16-tracks and interestingly, marks a decade from his breakthrough album with Warp Records: ambivalence avenue. An album which gained him a place on the UK Singles Chart in 2011 with his most critically applauded track yet in the form of ‘lovers’ carvings’. Simplistic, instrumental and catchy, his sizable audience helped him gain soundtrack placements on many films and tv series’ to this day. In the same year of ambivalence avenue’s release, Bibio ventured into this creative sector himself, taking up photography, then creating the film for his Mind Bokeh record, as well as co-directing the video for “Excuses”. 

Stephen Wilkinson aka Bibio started out as a bedroom producer of electronica. He then discovered his love for the so-called sonic arts whilst studying music at University in London. The 37-year-old musician, producer and singer plays all of the instrumental parts, interweaving acoustic and traditional instruments like violin and harp alongside the exotic sitar, Mellotron and steel-string guitars to name a few.

All the tracks are cohesively tied together by their folk-oriented, experimental and electronic nature. There are however a few exceptions, like ‘70s soul-inspired “Before”, uncovering a new flavour of Bibio never heard before. Then there’s “Old Graffiti”. It’s optimistic temperament, faint vocal inflections and improvisatory-style solos seems familiar to “Gasoline & Mirrors”. In this way, Wilkinson’s turn-of-the-decade album seems to be a direct sequel to his iconic 2006 album, A Mineral Love, yet also using previously explored ideas too.

Ribbons are driven by Bibio’s clean fingerpicked guitar roots, as on the opening track “Beret Girl”. A great example of this guitar style for new fans is the must-hear hit, “Town & Country”. Tracks such as “Beret Girl” and “Patchouli May” show similarities to this where the guitar part is at the forefront of the work. But other tracks on Ribbons contrast with this simplistic acoustic style, showing a sense of harmonic maturity. For example, lyrical folk melodies introduce “Curls” and “Watch the Flies” followed by storytelling vocals with a poetic feel. ‘Hair curls in the damp of the night/ The scent recalls like a photograph with life,’ sings Bibio creating a soothing ambience. Amidst all these acoustic guitars, fiddles, Bibio shows new technical guitar advancements but without straying too far away from his distinctive sound. 

The most-electronic leaning track, “Pretty Ribbons and Lovely Flowers” channels Wilkinson’s naturalist aesthetic through bird song via field recordings, accompanied by heavily processed electronics and pastoral guitar lines. In an interview, Bibio once said, “Electronic music doesn’t have to be so grid-like, it can be elasticated, more human.” So possibly this juxtaposition refers to the destruction of ecological cycles from technological advancements, a theme that is lyrically explored in “Town & Country”. The track features eerie female vocals to create a surreal soundscape. 

The track “Erdaydidder-Erdiddar” is another interesting one. Gentle folklore melodies introduce the conflicted by harmonically dissonant flute melodies, highly nostalgic of the light electronics on “Bewley in White” from Bibio’s debut album fi. Bibio’s penchant for lo-fi is briefly awakened in the track through a hazy sound with inaudible background voices which is in fact a children’s choir sample. The associations with lo-fi make it very fitting for the album. Or perhaps the musician was drawn to this style of music as it channels with his beginnings as a self-taught bedroom producer, an environment all too familiar with the “bedroom pop” aesthetic of lo-fi, as in music recording at home instead of traditional recording spaces.

In November 2019, Bibio also released an EP with Warp Records which remixes a few of his previous tracks with a folkloric makeover, hinting that this idea of playing with different themes and styles from tracks and albums was potent in Ribbons. Ultimately, the album showcases Bibio’s technical abilities and superb playing whilst creating a sense of nostalgia, a theme prevalent through all Bibio’s work. Yet through all the acoustic guitars, fiddles and folkloric poems, a uniqueness and authenticity is communicated in this album that is quintessentially Bibio. Ribbons is out now.

Rating: 5/5


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