What has Bibio in store for us this time? Lo-fi pastoral electronics, hi-fi Clarkalike bangers, dollops of disco or some of his peculiar, warm-spirited hybrids of the lot? In fact, Stephen Wilkinson’s new offering unexpectedly consists of semi-improvised, rather long pieces (up to 17 minutes). As the title Phantom Brickworks sort of suggests, these unhurried fellows reflect on the shifting meanings and associations of places as time passes. Another feather for Steve’s bow!
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Perhaps we're all living in fear of being found out. In work, in life, in everything. Bibio has made a career out of showcasing a wide array of talents from the sepia slo-mo Boards of Canada vignettes of his first few albums to the J Dilla inspired beatwork on his albums on Warp. 'Silver Wilkinson' proved that he could write watery Durutti Column style instrumentals of immense beauty but last years 'A Mineral Love' was the first time it seemed he wasn't as superhuman as first imagined. That album's collection of too-smooth summer pop lacked focus and seemed an unnecessary step towards the big time.
Perhaps as a response 'Phantom Brickworks' is as far away from the soul-lite of 'Mineral Love' as its possible to get. This is a serious of slow churning ambient pieces that have more in common with William Basinski and bvdub. These churning slabs of audio perfectly sit in with the similar types of ghostly noises made by the likes of the Caretaker but show glimpses of his signature early sound with rusted sounding guitar and piano being processed to the nth degree and allowed weather. A lot of these tracks are very reminiscent of bvdub's beatless 'Your Stories of Sadness' which in itself harked back to 'Selected Ambient Works' era Aphex Twin.
Here the pieces are slowed to a sloth-like pace and if the album has a flaw is that some of the (admittedly beautiful) sounds outstay their welcome. The opening '1899- 2030' has long proved itself way before its seven minutes are up and other pieces could do with sharper edits to leave the listener wanting more. That said this is a very adept ambient LP with a breadth of sounds at its disposal - the ghostly piano of 'Phantom Brickworks 2' is mightily evocative as it sits above low end drones and 'Capel Celyn' is gorgeously reminiscent of the early 90s ambient genre. Stunning stuff if again I'm waiting on a fade to send the music drifting into the ether. Still for fans of drone and ambient even if you aren't fans of his other records this will be one to snore to.
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