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"Ambivalence Avenue"

Bibio – Ambivalence Avenue
01 July 2009, 11:00 Written by Angus Finlayson
ambivalenceavenue_After a long tenure on Mush Records, Bibio (born Stephen Wilkinson) was brought into the prestigious Warp fold on - so it’s said - the recommendation of Boards of Canada. Having such a respected name sing your praises is any musician’s dream, but it’s conceivable that the West Midlands-born artist might have been best off staying where he was. In any case, a Warp release is sure to see him reaching whole new audiences; the words ‘make or break’ seem to be hovering ominously over this release. Let’s try to ignore them.The album’s backbone is a kind of pastoral haze - highly reminiscent of The Beta Band at their folkiest - which has become Bibio’s trademark sound. At their best, the guitar and vocal-led numbers which promote this sound are gems of simplicity and beauty; take the 'The Palm of your Wave' for example, where the fragility and character of Wilkinson’s voice (which, it must be said, isn’t always the most striking) comes to the fore, or ‘Haikuesque (When She Laughs)’, perhaps the album’s highlight. The chief appeal of these tracks is that they do just one thing, but they do it well; a creative approach which is sadly underrated in our bigger-harder-faster culture (when did I get so old and ranty?). Unfortunately, doing one thing, it becomes apparent, is precisely what this album fails at.Case in point: ‘Fire Ant’. Of course, it’s always nice to see producers keeping their ears to the ground - this track could feasibly be an offcut from Madlib’s Beat Konducta series, with its fragmented, soulful vocals and skittering breaks - but the late entry of a vocoded voice comes across as an attempt to add something to what is already a fully mature style; just not Bibio’s own. Further sleeve-worn influences are revealed in Sugarette and S’Vive, where the gloopy aqua-crunk-step sound of labelmate Flying lotus is exploited to its fullest. Don’t get me wrong, these stylistic forays are executed with skill and creativity; but there’s something disingenuous about such an established musician as Wilkinson tapping into a contemporary trend in such a blatant way.And while these tracks may be standalone successes, they sit uneasily alongside the established Bibio sound. Ambivalence Avenue is saturated with soundscape passages and obstructively long silences between songs; tried and tested methods for cleansing the palette before a major change in style or mood. Sadly, the sheer frequency of these interludes detracts from their success, and the constant changes in pacing make for a fragmented, dissatisfying listen.After so many releases (five albums by my count), you’d think Wilkinson would have learnt some self-discipline. Unfortunately, Ambivalence Avenue seems to be the work of a producer who wants to have his cake and eat it; he strives to be welcomed on both the soggy fields of WOMAD and the ketamine-dusted dancefloors of London’s hippest clubs. Unfortunately, the result isn’t quite enough for either. I’ll refrain from making a pun on my ambivalence towards this release. The proof is in the pudding. (And by pudding I mean percentage mark). 62%Bibio on MySpace
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