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Ambivalence Avenue

Bibio

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Album Review

Bibio (aka Stephen Wilkinson) impressed early in 2009 with the lovely Vignetting the Compost, but he raised the bar just a few months later with his second full-length that year, Ambivalence Avenue. This is Bibio's Warp debut, and the label is a fitting home for his music: Vignetting's sweetly decaying sound bore the influence of Warp veterans Boards of Canada. However, Ambivalence Avenue's sound is markedly different than what came before it; its mix of breezy pop and creatively layered instrumental hip-hop sits comfortably between a couple of other Warp residents, Grizzly Bear and Flying Lotus. While Bibio's signature nostalgic haze still floats over these songs, they sound far more active and clearly recorded than his previous work. Even the songs that could have appeared on Vignetting the Compost — such as the fragile folk of "Abrasion" and the languid pop of "Haikuesque (The Way She Laughs)" — have a more immediate feel despite their delicacy. These songs are less overtly conceptual than some of Bibio's prior work, but if Vignetting was a spring romp through the English countryside, then Ambivalence Avenue is summer in the city: the title track rolls in on the sound of street traffic before trippy flutes and guitars take over; the lush harmonies of "All the Flowers" are half High Llamas, half Crosby, Stills & Nash; and the jazzy tone to "Lover's Carving"'s guitars and synths has a distinctly urbane feel. Ambivalence Avenue goes from pleasant to exciting when Bibio ventures into unfamiliar territory, like the stuttering layers of "Fire Ant"'s instrumental hip-hop or the eight-bit bleeps and beats on "Dwrcan" and "S'vive." Some songs are almost unrecognizable compared to Bibio's past albums: the excellent "Jealous of Roses" mines '70s soul for its wah-wah guitars, falsetto vocals, and splashy reverb, and "Cry! Baby!" starts as a dense post-rock swirl, then becomes a jazzy synth pop meditation. It would be easy to call this album an exercise in dabbling if the quality of these songs weren't so strong — and it's that quality, along with Bibio's continuing flair for crafting distinctive atmospheres, that are the only constants throughout. Even if Ambivalence Avenue didn't follow so quickly after an already solid Bibio album, it would still be a big step forward for Wilkinson's music.

Biography

Born: West Midlands, England

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Bibio is the folk-meets-electronica project of self-taught producer/multi-instrumentalist Stephen Wilkinson, from England's Black Country (aka the West Midlands). As a student of sonic arts at London's Middlesex University, Wilkinson was first inspired by '90s electronic acts such as Aphex Twin, Autechre, and especially Boards of Canada, but became equally intrigued by mid-20th century British folk. He combined these sounds in his own music, along with found sounds and field recordings, for a unique...
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Ambivalence Avenue, Bibio
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