Album Review: Bibio – Ribbons

Listening to Ribbons, Bibio‘s 10th album (7th on Warp Records), it’s hard not to feel like Stephen Wilkinson has something he wants to tell you.

That might seem a little odd for an artist so dedicated to the crafting, to the musicality, of making a record. But the early movements of Ribbons adopt such a cohesive outlook that it’s tricky not to sense some underlying meaning. For one thing, the first eight tracks of Ribbons manifest a much broader move towards earthy, folk-orientated instrumentation, and is (mostly) a collection of wonderfully delicate, almost classical guitar compositions.

For another, there’s a recurring focus on the influence of small, apparently inconsequential happenings in the world and how meaningful truly they are.

On ‘The Art Of Living,’ Wilkinson considers the lessons learned watching life in bloom or remembering micro-experiences of personal flaws. On ‘Curls’ he chronicles the instructive hidden meanings of watching nature at work – “To find a stone just to bounce across the pond / Is the path it makes that’s a clue to other songs” – and leans into seemingly prosaic memories given new weight by artful instrumentation.

Wilkinson, it seems, has been taking the time to pay attention to the things around him – and hopes you will too.

Which seems like a timely fixation, when much of society’s discourse is bothering over what might or might not be the really real reality, and what might be a mirage. Over whose truth might be true to you and which lies might be truisms in disguise. The entire aesthetic of Ribbons turns away from this misstep and quietly asserts the value of simple pleasures and how hugely important paying them attention can be.

Only on ‘Watching The Flies’ does Wilkinson appear, perhaps, vaguely, to frame this against the state of the world. “July comes, the sun alludes you / I know, you can’t afford a room with a view,” he sings, a nod to how easily we become separated from straightforward, costless moments of pleasure.

This is not a wholly new theme in Bibio’s work. On Ambivalence Avenue, he sung of hidden words and on A Mineral Love he worried about “time eaten by the city.” But on Ribbons, the care he shows for the little things is matched by careful and largely unadorned instrumentation that paints a pastoral scene of bucolic joys.

That’s not to say it’s bereft of the production traits so recognizable of Bibio’s work. ‘Before’ and ‘Old Graffiti’ draw on the soulful strut found on A Mineral Love. ‘Pretty Ribbons And Lovely Flowers’ sees Wilkinson reaching once again for haunting sound manipulation, forming something deeply affective with his distinctive approach to electronic music.

But Ribbons’ often pristine production seems to speak of a clarity in its creator’s mind. Ribbons isn’t an ode to nature, nor is it a catalogue of all the reasons to be happy (“who’d have thought / we’d turn our home to hell” he sings on ‘Curls’). But it is a reflection of how the things we so easily overlook – the sounds of nature, the turning of seasons, the mundane images can make the most treasured memories – can have such a huge impact on how we see the world.