Artist of the Week: Bibio

The air is like a sweat milkshake, but the smell of roasting meat, freshly-cut grass and water falling from the sky, well, it carries on over to the porch, where we sit and palaver with our friends. The daylight goes on forever in the summer, as does the conversation and condensation. We refill our slippery drinks, watch our shadows grow long, and look for lightning bugs in the twilight. They blink here and there, illuminating tendrils of cigarette smoke wafting away, like some slowly waving hand.

Good friends are visiting from afar, and they speak of stories from afar. Snippets of other lives, adventures and relationships pepper the air like cartoon speech bubbles, brightly outlined (and in strange fonts). The back door bangs open and bangs close as people wander in and out, trading waves of humidity for icy blasts of conditioned air. It’s a right fine summer gathering, and as a thick funnel of barbecue smoke skewers up into the sky, someone says, “Let’s put on some music!”

The penultimate moment strikes.

What options there are, and far more wrong ones than right ones. A poor choice could kill the party, but a wise choice could make it more than just a summer barbecue. Suddenly the iPod/turntable looks intimidating. Once you make that decision and hit play, everyone will turn and look at you, for good or ill. They will know what music you played, and they will remember if it sucked.

What to do?

Well, there are two (mostly) fail-safe options: Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Bob Marley’s Legend. Both have become timeless house party albums, and everybody knows them. They bridge generations, and seem to have become relevant to all walks of life. Pick one of those venerable landmarks, and people might actually contribute money for a new keg when the host goes around asking for donations. As soon as “Wanna Be Startin Somethin” kicks in, you can dance confidently away from the iPod, mission accomplished.

However, if you have neither one, Bibio’s debut for Warp Records, Ambivalence Avenue, might do the trick. Yes, it’s only been out for a few weeks, and no, it has not remained relevant for decades. The creator has not invented awesome new dances, nor has he become the vanguard of an entire genre of music. As a matter of fact, Stephen Wilkinson, the man behind Bibio, fancies fishing.

But after listening to this album almost every day for the past month, and getting great reactions after playing it at multiple house parties and inside multiple hooptys, I really can’t think of a better way to introduce its importance. For me, Ambivalence Avenue has become the soundtrack for the summer of 2009. It’s the kind of record that grows, revealing multiple layers and strata with every listen. But at the same time, it’s instantly gratifying, and that is key.

In general, most of the 12 tracks on Ambivalence Avenue feature funky beats, extremely melodic guitar and exceptional production, all filtered through a grocery aisle’s worth of flavors, brands and colors. Some songs are more on the glitchy, classic Warp Records side of the fence (“S’Vive,” “Fire Ant,” “Sugarette”), while others are just simple harmony, guitar and keyboard (“The Palm Of Your Wave,” “All The Flowers,” “Abrasion”). Naturally, the best results come when Bibio weaves these two together with some sort of unknown magic (“Ambivalence Avenue,” “Jealous of Roses,” “Haikuesque”).

A great example is “Lovers Carvings’.” A classic, two-part song, the first 01:27 is nothing but Bibio playing guitar. By the sound, he is musing on something lovely, and it absolutely reeks of cheery thoughts, like a summer spent barefoot, tanned and young. Then a simple beat comes in, composed of a very muted cowbell, a muffled clap mixed with finger-snap, and a shaking shaker. That might not be the exact recipe, but it sure gives the right, light-hearted impression. Once Bibio starts singing over it, as if skipping down a lane and picking flowers, the mood is complete. He kills the lyrics toward the end, opting for a bunch of do-dah doo’s and bah-bump bahs, whilst a 70’s-dipped Zappish effect warbles winkily in the background. Ice cream trucks the world over should be blasting it.

Furthermore, there seems to be a song for every mood, whether it’s the straight-up porno bounce of “Jealous of Roses” or the haunting, hold-your-breath emotion in “The Palm Of Your Wave.” The latter might just be the best song on the record, because when Bibio sings “Ohhhhhhhhh, this moment,” a man could cry and not be ashamed. But if you really want a hint at how many solid aural pleasures and treasures Ambivalence Avenue holds, just listen to the album sampler circulating about the Internet.

I hadn’t heard it until just recently, because I’ve been too busy listening to the whole album. I’m usually not a fan of album samplers, but after digesting the record 47 minutes at a time for the past month, I thought I’d give it a go, you know, and see how Bibio cut and pasted 47 minutes into a 4 minute snippet.

Needless to say, listening to the sampler was quite a shock. It really hammered the quality factor home – almost ridiculously so. All those amazing moments, all on one album, all the work of one dude, good gravy, really?

So, buy Bibio’s record now, and enjoy the summer while it lasts. Once you’ve sealed the memory in your mind (and music is the best marker), you can revisit the summer whenever you want. That’s how good a stroll down Ambivalence Avenue is.

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– Matt Lehtola


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