A Mineral Love doesn’t break with tradition.
Bibio (aka Steven Wilkinson) makes what is for the most part quiet music built around electric guitar refrains and looped samples. It’s unadorned but by no means minimalist, and while that may sound like music that sticks to one groove and rarely deviates, Bibio has toyed with plenty of influences across three EPs and six LPs. His fourth full-length on Warp Records, A Mineral Love doesn’t break with tradition so much as indulge in sonic variety more extensively than before.
Opener “Petals” is exactly what you expect from Bibio: a repetitive finger-plucked electric guitar accompanied by ethereal vocals. What’s surprising is that the vocals continue throughout the album. Bibio likes his instrumentals, and his intricately crafted songs can stand on their own without discernible lyrics. Just look at 2013’s Silver Wilkinson. Songs like “À tout à l’heure” are poppy rarities, for the most part. But the title track is the first of many on this new album to embrace R&B and funk influences. Mixing organ, synth and funk guitar, the track is a warbly, falsetto Bibio that maintains his dreamy lethargy. Elsewhere, these ’70s callbacks come across as kitschy but no less enjoyable. “Town & Country” highlights playful keys and touches of soulful saxophone. Its natural companion is “Feeling,” which unleashes its sax from the top along with a funk guitar clearly filtered through a wah-wah pedal.
Wilkinson expressed his intent on A Mineral Love as “an unashamed expression of my fondness of, and need for, variety.” His heavy use of nostalgic styles doesn’t recreate a genre period, but works within a familiar framework. But there are times when both his versatility and nods to specific genres backfire. Midway through the album, back-to-back songs “With the Thought of Us” and “Why So Serious?” seem wholly out of place, not just in the context of this record but in Bibio’s oeuvre. The former’s club beat and reverbed synths carry none of the warmth that characterizes Bibio’s music. “Why So Serious?” (featuring Olivier St. Louis) is even more uncharacteristic, considering it’s a glossy synth ballad ripped from the ’80s.
Contrasted with such sonic abandon, the muted folk of “Raxeira,” “C’est La Vie” and “Wren Tails” is completely overpowered. Even “The Way You Talk” (featuring Gotye), a moody synth soundscape, has trouble following “With the Thought of Us.” “Gasoline & Mirrors” has more going for it, with its blend of hand-claps, warbling synth line and jangly acoustics. The track is still mellow but lifts the energy one last time before instrumental “Saint Thomas” and indie pop finale “Light Up the Sky.”
That said, Wilkinson himself has explicitly addressed the stylistic choices made on the record: “The juxtapositions between tracks are well considered and I’m comfortable with them.” Such a matter of fact statement is hard to criticize, and the only real downside to the album is the synth-fueled middle. The aesthetic simply doesn’t suit the calm of the rest of the album. Otherwise, A Mineral Love is likely the most broadly appealing Bibio album since Ambivalence Avenue or Mind Bokeh.