From under blankets of warped tape ribbon and warm, unsteadily recorded acoustic guitar, Stephen Wilkinson calls from central rural England. He is Bibio, relentlessly pursuing what first made folk music exciting by layering it with sonic expertise and electronic wonder. His debut, Fi, is absolutely gentle and grows closer to the heart with each listen.
Marcus Eoin of Boards of Canada suggested to Mush Records that Wilkinson’s work would be a good fit for the label; Eoin probably appreciated the many moments on Fi where Wilkinson incorporates Boards’ Geogaddi album. The self-taught musician/producer explores what originally set folk music apart from its watered-down radio-play-list peers by layering a base of Fairport Convention-esque acoustic meanderings with field noises and whatever else he was able to capture on tape. The tracks are often loops of the same melody, but Wilkinson’s formula mutates the sound so much toward the end of the piece that the tape sounds old, warped and close to ruin.
Bibio’s work is an atmosphere of sound — a tale told before, but this time it’s being done with what sounds like broken equipment. The devices in Wilkinson’s reach may have only just come into his reach, as if they’d been buried under piles of newspapers and have become almost dysfunctional from weather and moisture. They’re all instrumental on Fi, an ambient assortment of bedroom, riverside and backyard recordings that beckon to analysis and repeated listen. By the time his seventeen-track debut spins into its final groove, it feels like it needs to be played again to investigate how these bent and twisted pieces got to be so melodious.
On “Bewley in White,” Wilkinson offers some of the most precise picking on the record, and buzzing but soothing synths play behind it, sounding not unlike sitars and woodwinds. Some of the tracks seem half-finished, as if Wilkinson became preoccupied with a caterpillar or a plant while getting some wind sounds on tape in the courtyard. The rest of Fi is more of the same, via refreshing experiments in both structured sound and noise. It’s never intrusive, only soft and sleepy rural messes that roll in and out of unexplored English Victorian countryside.