Bibio’s tenth solo album Ribbons plays prominently into the folk aesthetic. 40-year-old British musician Stephen Wilkinson – whose intelligent, musician’s music has laid the foundation for his career – has produced another compelling piece of worthwhile quality.
The first of sixteen tracks is the quiet and roving instrumental “Beret Girl”, which plays like a fusion of classical Spanish guitar and American folk. Soft-picked, the guitar plays brightly but not loud – and in less than two minutes it is done. Up next is “The Art Of Living”, which follows nicely out of track one in its soft folksiness. Also featuring a sunny, picked guitar, which is accompanied by bits of soothing woodwind, keys and wildlife noises, it has a kindly pastoral feel. The mood reinforces the song’s pseudo-mythological mother-goose lyricism; “she set me on her knee, and told me to be free and healthy, then she pushed me on the floor, to teach me how to fall, to save me”.
In a bit of a shift, “Before” is more contemporary and funky. The vocal treatment brings Phil Collins to mind, and the song has a slightly submerged sound, swallowed up in reverb and delay. Bass-heavy, the strongest track of the album thus far bounces with some groovy Rhodes key tones and laid-back drumming – there’s a bit of R&B in this song.
“Curls” is another idyllic old-country song. Debuting on this record is a fiddle, driving the song down the path of romanticism with an Irish embellishment. The lyricism is harmonious in this aspect as well; “her hair it curls in the dead of the night”, draping his intimate experience with reflective images of his countryside terroir.
The fifth track is “Ode To A Nuthatch”, another sweet instrumental bit. It is a guitar and mandolin duet complete with nuthatch chatter – simple, but sweet. For anyone who has a taste for folk music, this turn of the record is rather pleasant, for between “Ode To A Nuthatch” and “Watch The Flies”, there is some dramatic and compelling guitar and mandolin work that grows in intensity – especially the outro of “Watch The Flies”, with the low hum of a violin underneath such a riveting composition almost mimicking the murmur of a sitar’s sympathetic strings.
“It’s Your Bones” follows the aesthetic trend. Remarkably, Wilkinson’s vocal sound is quite reminiscent of Art Garfunkel’s, and it plays well with a fiddle-heavy plucked-string ensemble. Making another appearance is a deftly-orchestrated flute voice, which brings some shrillness to a song that has a bit of bite.
Softly plays “You Couldn’t Even Hear The Birds Singing”, a patterned bridge of a segue from “It’s Your Bones” to “Pretty Ribbons And Lovely Flowers”, which is more alike to “Before” in its modern sensibility. A deep bass synth churns underneath a phased progression of melded vocals and distorted keys. It is almost insensible as a lyrical piece, but the experimental spirit of the song heaves heavily, and the gist is felt.
“Erdaydidder-Erdiddar” bespeaks the foremost, folk aesthetic of the record. It’s an instrumental piece driven by both guitar and mandolin, which are placed over a stomping country dance beat. Pull-off and hammer techniques are plentiful in the strings, which include a substantial fiddle section. The song is curiously but intelligibly backed by chant-speaking vocals, creating an effect that is comparable to that of Melody’s Echo Chamber’s “Be Proud Of Your Kids” (2012). The busy title aptly indicates a busy track.
“Frankincense And Coal”, another mother-goose track – this one a filler, mostly being simple and instrumental – guides the listener into “Old Graffiti”, which grooves with a smooth rhythm. The wah effect rolls in the rhythm section that recalls the Grateful Dead’s “Fire On The Mountain” (1978). It is rich and slides under a rather active vocal section, which is treated much like that of Tame Impala’s recent single “Patience”.
“Patchouli May” and “Valley Wulf” make a nice combination of light-and-dark folk tunes, adding to the instrumental depth and breadth of the record. “Quarters” is a darker song, talking of “time in shadows” and “poisonous words and laughter” which, though momentarily tempered by “safe in our garden” and the hopeful “start of the season”, is ultimately won over by the brooding mood. The last track is the instrumental “Under A Lone Ash”, which winds the album down in an appropriately folksy way.
Altogether, Ribbons has some compelling material to offer. Between commonplace sentimental pieces and a few compositionally virtuosic moments, Wilkinson delivers a compelling piece. While the regret might be the continuous transitioning from one song to the next, cramping sixteen mostly similar tracks into one singular release, the record is a general success insofar as it is a musically intelligent cohesive offering. Though there may not be any particularly shining bits, Biblio has compiled a fine collection of provincial pieces.