Bibio's music may be more familiar to you than you'd expect. Not necessarily because you've heard it before, but because even on first listen it triggers brilliantly hazy moments of deja vu (or deja entendu) - that movie you saw on TV 20 years ago, that holiday you took with your parents, the memory of which you now strangely cherish, the song that was number one at the time, that old, hand-cranked music box you found in the attic, that old bossa nova vinyl, those sunblind, sherbet moments of your formative years which now exist only in the recesses of your subconscious, blurry but as vividly coloured as opal fruits.
Of course, there is the strong possibility you have heard his music before, as the soundtrack to scores of Vimeo short films, or more recently in the current Amazon Kindle advert which took “Lovers Carvings”, a favourite from his last album, as its soundtrack.
Taking his name from a fly his father used on fishing trips in his childhood, Stephen Wilkinson, aka Bibio has moved swiftly up through the gears, from his 2005 debut Fi, in which he combined acoustic guitar and tape loops, home and field recordings to create a wistful masterpiece that was at once organic and processed. “A lot of those things are still in my work now but I'm looking to move away from that,” says Bibio. “I don't simply want to be repeating myself.”
And so, since Ambivalence Avenue, his debut for Warp, he's gathered together all the disparate strands of his myriad phases and influences to create a concentrate that works as full-on, neon-lit pop. And not drearioso, everyday, autotune pop but champagne cork pop – a jolting, immediate, highly pleasant surprise from out of the blue.
Those already familiar with Bibio for his discography of acclaimed albums will experience what Bibio describes as a “balance of the familiar and the non-familiar” on Mind Bokeh, his latest and most accomplished album. In fact, Mind Bokeh sounds like the neon, night-time counterpart to Ambivalence Avenue's more pastoral, sunflecked tones. For example, there's “Take Off Your Shirt”, which Bibio describes as being “about the frustrations of living in English towns with little aspiration beyond getting boozed up, being vulgar and fighting.” It's a hybrid of Thin Lizzy at their most silvery and pop-aggressive, with a blue eyed soulful feel reminiscent of 90s French house. “I'd record things like this in the past and then not release them because I thought, “It's not Bibio.” But I'm into all kinds of diverse music, why bottleneck yourself and restrict to one style?” Why indeed. And what to make of “K Is For Kelson”, a chance encounter between Afrobeat and the theme to Starsky And Hutch?
“What happens after writing music for many years is that your influence comes from within as well as without – imaginary bands, an idea of what an era sounded like rather than necessarily the thing as itself.”
“When I was teenager and into heavy metal, I was very patriotic to it and feared that I'd lose my purism, cut my hair and listen to other musics. I got away from that when I was 15 and got into jazz. Then I went the other way, I wouldn't go near heavy metal, I thought it was primitive – it's only recently I've become reconciled to it again, and reconciled to my going through all these phases.” Those phases have included, in his formative years, successive and seemingly contradictory fixations on Iron Maiden, Steve Reich, Brazilian pop, Nick Drake and The Incredible String Band, Aphex Twin, Autechre and Boards Of Canada.
As you might expect from an occidental West Midlands lad who's taken on board, via the late Alan Watts the key tenets of Eastern philosophy, Bibio is paradoxical. Mind Bokeh is vivid and colourised, yet deliberate in the way that it intrigues, triggers memory flashes and hits the pleasure points. It gets right in your head without bashing you on the head. This, as Bibio explains, is the Japanese notion of Bokeh as applied musically.
“Bokeh is the out of focus region of a photograph. It's not a quantifiable thing, but photographers and lens manufacturers are obsessed with it. In Japanese it means “haze”, “blur”, or even “dementia”. I called the album Mind Bokeh because I'm interested in the effect of defocussing your mind, whether through meditation, chemicals or whatever – it's a state of mind quite alien to Westerners.”
The album sleeve perfectly illustrates Bokeh in effect – a cluster of hexagons which floats up as if from the supposed background of a colour photo, dancing beguilingly and arrestingly like UFO tail-lights. “The crystal clear representation of a moment isn't necessarily the most interesting,” says Bibio. “Think about when you look at your parents' old photographs, it's not an exact image of how they look, it's like a stained glass window into how they look.”
Mind Bokeh is an album of quality and indistinction. On the album's opener “Excuses”, for example, a competing haze of layered sounds and clip-clop percussion give way as suddenly the song is hoist upright, with Bibio's bright vocals percolating through a cluster of rhythmical spikes. Its effects are achieved in part through Bibio's use of the old, Surrealist technique of automatic writing – a partial switching off of the conscious mind in order to explore and liberate deeper, repressed truths.
“Wake Up!” is a blissful, warm blur, like screwing your eyes as they adapt to the light of a gorgeous sunlit morning. “Saint Christopher” is a veritable lake of a track, limpid, gorgeous, distressed, dappled. “Artist's Valley” is similarly reminiscent and idyllic, with instamatic, gaseous eruptions of colour exciting nostalgia for some place you've never actually been. The title track ripples with what Bibio describes as “synaesthesic similarity to defocussed spots of light” - synaesthesia in this case being the audio and the visual merging into a single sensation. Mind Bokeh isn't just musical but visual, textural even. But amid the sepia tints, the filters, the analogue crackle and the familiar/unfamiliar throbs an increasingly emergent pop sensibility – take “Anything New”, with its Peter Frampton-style vocoders perceived through a glass lightly.
This is music that will strike thousands upon thousands of chords, which accounts for the high commercial demand for Bibio's work – he's tapped into a mass hankering, heightened in this relentlessly over-digitalised era, for a new way of hearing and listening that's more nuanced, grainier, more profoundly informed by the past than cheap kitsch or retro. “I hate the idea that “anything new replaces old. That's brought about by a wasteful, capitalist culture in which we're constantly urged to upgrade our phones, in which things are made ancient and obsolete really quickly.” Bibio's is a David Hockney-like aesthetic which stresses the primacy of the senses, rather than letting technology do all the work. “I always wanted to reflect the idea that walking down your street, noticing grass growing in a crack in the pavement – bring that into people's lives more, amid the constant bombardment of cultural information – just a leaf on the pavement can be a really beautiful thing.”
Bibio is on the brink of big pop things but he's the anti-PT Barnum. He recalls (and firmly agrees with) a quote he memorised from an old Boards of Canada interview, “always assume that the listener is the most intelligent person imaginable. If you always think like that, you never insult the listener.” Mind Bokeh is the album you deserve.