On 2017's excellent Phantom Brickworks, Bibio's Stephen Wilkinson took a deep dive into his music's ambient side that was unexpected, yet made perfect sense within his body of work. This time, Wilkinson spotlights the acoustic elements that have added warmth to his sound since the beginning, and the freshness of Ribbons suggest that his break from song-based music reinvigorated him. In interviews, Wilkinson has mentioned he prefers the simplicity of writing on acoustic guitar, and that purity shines through on the album's numerous instrumentals.
On Ribbons, it seems Bibio is taking the time to reflect. After 2017's beautifully minimal Phantom Brickworks, which saw the artist exploring fully improvised ambient music for the first time, Ribbons attempts to sum up Bibio's sonic career from beginning to now.
Folktronica songs are placed right beside indie pop tunes, tied together with a consideration and passion that make the record's seemingly unrelated influences sound right at home as bedfellows. Fans will recognize the lo-fi tape hiss of tracks like "Ode to a Nuthatch," but ….
At this point, you know what you're getting yourself into with Stephen Wilkinson. His work as Bibio has danced between 90's house, lo-fi, breakbeat, and a litany of other tags across the length of single albums. This is a difficult thing to do well, but Bibio makes it work by maintaining a distinct recording style, the fidelity of which feels attainable, nostalgic, and rich - like a neighbor of yours has a home recording project that you've always admired.
From the instrumental hip-hop of "Fire Ant", to the golden pop of "A Tout a l'Heure", the skuzzy guitar-rock of "Take Off Your Shirt", to the '80s synth-funk remix "Take Off Your Skirt", the joyful acoustic instrumental of "Dinghy" to the heart-breaking "You Won't Remember" - his musical range is near-unmatched, making each album he released a joyous surprise. This surprise was magnified when Phantom Brickworks, Bibio 's 2017 LP, turned out to be a single-minded masterclass in ambience, something which had always been a part of Wilkinson's music but never enclosed in a single album. It was brilliant, but to an extent it broke Wilkinson's pattern of always having a fingers in a few different genre-filled pies.
For a dude whose music is so unflappably chill, Bibio, the British producer Stephen Wilkinson, remains a restless musician. Over the past 14 years his path has zig-zagged between acoustic and digital extremes; it's only fitting that his landmark album was called Ambivalence Avenue, since Wilkinson cheerfully refuses to stay in any one lane for long. His signature mixture of acoustic folk, hip-hop beats, and easy-listening soul might seem tailor-made for the era of mood-based playlists and legal marijuana, but there's genuine weirdness to his warbly patina, wildlife field recordings, and fingerpicked six-string, all of which recalls oxidized cassette tapes curling in the heat.
Bibio is one of the most natural talented songwriters in the country. A musician seemingly capable of turning his hand to almost anything, the Warp artist - real name Stephen Wilkinson - can move from blistering electronics to opaque folk hymnals in the space of an album. With a catalogue that now stretches well over a decade, you could be forgiven to wondering if Bibio still has unknown stretches on the map left to fill.