Stephen Wilkinson has a studio out in the countryside. Maybe you’d already guessed. The music the British beatmaker-composer puts out as Bibio thrives on a tension between traditional English folk forms and the production-first approach of hip-hop and contemporary electronic music. While folk music usually implies an oral, song-based tradition that’s passed down through the generations, Bibio’s music couldn’t exist without digital wizardry and would be hard to simply play on guitar. It’s hard to even know what he’s saying half the time, so deep are his vocals buried in the mix. Last year’s Ribbons melted down centuries of jigs and reels and ballads into ambient mood music. This year’s Sleep on the Wing picks up where it left off, albeit using electronics in a more subtle way: there are no broken beats or funky basslines here, though a bird might occasionally twitter through a thick filter.

Wilkinson deserves credit for taking a modern approach to such a storied tradition. But much has been lost in translation. British folk music reflects the rich imaginative territory that comes with a syncretism of Christianity and ancient druidic legends, and faerie folk and shapeshifters are as likely to show up as knights and kings and queens and maidens fair. It also reflects the legacy of feudalism, famine, war and all the other horrors of Britain’s muddy, bloody history. For the most part (2017’s ambient Phantom Brickworks is an exception), Bibio’s music puts aside any tension to present a postcard-perfect image of rolling hills and rustic farms with sheep and cute little piglets. The British Tourist Authority couldn’t come up with better advertising.

The sumptuous album art Warp has draped over this small, 28-minute record shows a rural idyll interrupted by a bird whose silhouette reveals flickering city lights. The opening and title track explicitly positions the country as a place to clear your head from the hustle and bustle of the city: “Sleep on the wing without the lights of the city/ Lamb in the fields with the folds and the clover,” he croons. “Sleep” is a command here. He must’ve forgotten to put “relax,” “float,” “clear your mind.” There’s little to differentiate this from new age music, especially insofar as that its main goal seems to be imparting a cow-eyed vision of the countryside, and while there’s some emotional shading, like when a low bass enters on “Crocus,” there’s never any awe or mystery. A track like “The Milky Way Over Ratlinghope” evokes the twinkle of stars in the night sky but not their size or distance.

Sleep on the Wing doesn’t tell us anything about Britain we couldn’t have already guessed. If it had embraced the ancient strangeness of the island it describes, as Phantom Brickworks did, it could have been as transportive and evocative as it wants to be. As it is, it feels as two-dimensional as its cover art. It’s hard to shake the feeling that the point of this album is that Bibio has a studio out in the countryside.

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