Stephen Wilkinson has had something of a charmed career thus far. Marcus Eoin, from his heroes Boards of Canada, was instrumental in getting him a record deal with Mush Records after hearing an early recording (which sampled heavily from Boards of Canada’s Geogaddi). And now, after three lush records full of field recordings and samples for Mush, he’s signed to Warp, releasing albums right alongside his idols. On his debut for Warp, Wilkinson has taken his Bibio project in a new and fragmented direction. Ambivalence Avenue combines abstract IDM, simple folk and experimental hip-hop beatmaking in a way that is neither forced nor self-conscious.
The songs on Ambivalence Avenue vacillate between more traditionally Warp-related sounds, like the glitchy drums and Prefuse-like gated vocals on “Fire Ant” and “Sugarette,” and quieter, folksy sounds, like the Fleet Foxes vocal harmonies on “Abrasion.” The album opens with the title track, a sample-based exercise that brings to mind a less exuberant Panda Bear. That leads into “Jealous of Roses,” a wah-driven funk jam, and then “All the Flowers,” which sounds like a forgotten Zombies B-side. At other points on the record, Bibio recalls Ariel Pink, Flying Lotus, and Tim Hecker.
All of this name-checking would lead one to think that these tracks are at worst purposelessly derivative or at best incoherent in context with one another. However, Wilkinson’s musicianship is of such a caliber to negate any accusations of lack of originality or focus. He is able to navigate the entire musical spectrum, from the simplest songs (the heartbreaking beauty of “The Palm of Your Wave”) to the most complex (the constantly shifting “Dwrcan”), all the while alluding to his influences without overtly copying them. There is an intangible element here that is entirely Bibio’s; the entire album is enveloped in a lo-fi hum that creates a warmth around his sounds without distorting them.
Ambivalence Avenue is a mixed bag in terms of style, but not in terms of quality. Its schizophrenic range of styles would be distracting were it not all done with the same understated warm haze. Stephen Wilkinson has taken the field recordings and organic experiments of his previous albums and filtered them through a stylistic prism, resulting in a kaleidoscopic but nearly uniformly accomplished set of songs.