The musical polymath is a title oft flouted in modern age of bands, blogs and bandcamp, but is rarely truer than for the released work of Stephen Wilkinson.
Few artists have such a far-reaching palette of sound, or are able to create albums so explorative and exceptional from it. Six prior records have seen Bibio make us cry with “You Won’t Remember”, make us dance on “Jealous of the Roses”, and make us buy Amazon products with “Lovers’ Carvings”. But being so accustomed to Wilkinson's inherent sonic variety, what move could follow? The Black Country resident has returned to show us: it's album number seven - fourth on Warp - but the first that feels freed from a cycle of semi-forced reinvention, and is instead left to evolve out of the music Bibio has scattered along his garden path, taking learnings from each in turn.
The challenge without a clear musical trajectory is communicating the ebb and flow to a listener: Warp debut Ambivalence Avenue was folky and funky in equal measures; Mind Bokeh explored electronica with a small side of pop; Silver Wilkinson was, with the exception of “À tout à l'heure”, more sparse and sombre. But A Mineral Love brushes each in turn like an extended overture, with almost every song flirting with the spirit of a previous release, without feeling stale or regressive whilst at it.
For instance, “Raxeira” and “Town & Country” take the initial promises of straightforward popcraft off Ambivalence Avenue or Silver Wilkinson to produce two of the best songs Wilkinson has ever written. Both beautifully moulded productions lyrically and sonically, it’s early enough in the album to envisage a record full of soft pop being Bibio’s masterpiece. However much we might long for it, this is sharply brought to a halt with “Feeling”, bearing a lo-fi funk reminiscent of Ambivalence and a mean drum loop to match. Meanwhile, there's plenty more going on: “With The Thought of Us” and “Why So Serious” sink into muddy synths and grooves; "Wren Tails"’ beautiful lo-fi acoustic looping harks back to his days on Mush Records; Gotye’s appearance on “The Way You Talk” is intimate and beautiful even if failing to blossom into more than a repeating refrain, and "Light Up The Sky" is a euphoric slow jam more than worthy to close the album out with.
All these styles are expertly weaved to form A Mineral Love, with a lone piece lacking: a greater purpose. Whether muddied in the craft of each individual track, the challenge of connecting cavernous swings of style or the focus on individual track transitions, it’s hard to swallow the idea of A Mineral Love as a single-minded piece of work as much as previous albums. But minor setbacks aside, it’s another beautiful, consumable collection of music from Bibio that no other artist could make sound so inherently theirs, and one that leaves Wilkinson's future musical trajectory as wide open as it’s ever been. Here's to it staying that way.