Bibio, also known as Stephen Wilkinson, has proved himself a unique experimental artist. His plethora of albums displays his adoration for various genres; songs seem to spring from folky twangs, funk bass and hip-hop seamlessly. Each of his past releases is a special treat, waiting to be discovered and listened to.
Sadly, on Phantom Brickworks, Wilkinson appears to have thrown away the eclectic style and instrumentation which he is known for. This record constructs a series of bleak minimalist soundscapes, each lasting around seven to eight minutes. The album’s cover, a white background with the album name in plain black lettering, epitomises the new sound Bibio has adopted.
This record is very clearly aiming to give the listener a relaxing, meditative experience; songs amble delicately at a slow pace, making use of soft horns and faint piano keys. Often, Bibio laces tracks with worldly sound-effects – ‘IVY CHARCOAL’ features the gentle patter of rain, and ‘PHANTOM BRICKWORKS III’ includes some eerily distant wails of female vocalists, for example.
The album succeeds in achieving this sedated feel, but Wilkinson sacrifices too much in reaching the sound he wants. Part of the joy in listening to older Bibio albums is hearing each track take unexpected twists and turns. Phantom Brickworks, however, feels dreary and overly uniform. Too many songs seem to loop similar sounding motifs for minutes at a time.
With the bland instrumentation and lack of variation between tracks, Wilkinson has seemingly lost his way musically. But perhaps this is exactly what we should expect. He has said in the past that he just wants to experiment with sounds between projects – perhaps this step into subdued ambience is a natural step towards something more inspiring in his career.
Overall, this album is disappointing: it’s like having a really vivid dream, which is also extremely boring. With exams looming, however, its slow burning, reflective sounds seem designed for the most dedicated students. Use it to help you get through some reading, or to relax after a hardcore midnight library session.
Image: Joe Giacomet / Warp Records