Sunday, April 19, 2009

Vignetting the Compost - Bibio

Vignetting the Compost

Mush Records.

SCQ Rating: 74%

When most people wake up on a day such as this, where in Southern Ontario birds are chirping in tree-coves and a cloudless sky is dropping warm sun on everything, certain winter daydreams become realities. People can break out their summer wardrobes early, wander their city without running from one heater to the next, or venture out into backyards or patios to see what damages those darker months may have caused. Possibilities seem nearly endless. In my case, I open our neglected balcony door, slide open window glass and press play on Vignetting the Compost, the latest opus by British producer Stephen Wilkinson, which would’ve been an ideal record to headline my Spring 2009 feature.

My primary reason for delaying this review until now can be explained by Wilkinson’s split interests; roughly half of Vignetting the Compost indulges in warped field recordings and psychedelic washes of tranquil tones, the other half committed to ruminating English folk. Thanks to Wilkinson’s videos for several tracks (completely awesome and viewable here), I was drawn to offspring of his electronic muse: the soft restlessness of ‘Torn Under the Window Light’ and especially the emotive key changes of ‘Top Soil’. These studio creations thrive from the same school of technique perfected by Boards of Canada, crafting instrumental songs out of idyllic and haunting melodies and then aging them backwards through the decades as if they were pioneer-recordings from a forgotten time. Yet the record’s other passion, captured in the pastoral finger-picking of ‘Great Are the Piths’ or the sun-lit folk of ‘Mr and Mrs. Compost’, took greater efforts to embrace… not due to quality control but because, like many (including big fans Boards of Canada), I was captivated by his more adventurous experiments.

While Vignetting the Compost refuses to force-feed listeners both electronic and folk styles within the same track, it gradually convinces you they are one and the same. Each guitar-based track features analogue textures implicit to electronica while most BOC-esque tracks employ guitar tones which maintain the album’s over-arching pastoral vibe. Bibio’s two sides create a full personality that is captured best on catchy instrumental ‘The Ephemeral Bell’ and swan-song ‘Thatched’. In fact, while the album’s mood deviates among slight one and two minute asides, Vignetting the Compost can sometimes sound too pastoral, too breezy, as if Wilkinson’s plethora of atmospheres are threatening to float off into irrelevance. In no small part because many of Bibio’s songs resemble Boards of Canada’s (especially dead-ringer ‘Amongst the Bark and Fungus’), it’s difficult to abstain from suggesting that Wilkinson’s compositions require doses of the Scottish duo’s tension and melancholy, if only to ground some of these fleeting, good-time soundtracks. Still, this is a record to admire, as much for its well-honed craft as for scoring the spiritual changes of season.

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