Like karma, apparently there are good and bad versions of “bokeh,” a photography term referring to image blur. Bibio—a.k.a. British producer Stephen Wilkinson—has called his fifth album Mind Bokeh, a “balance of the familiar and the non-familiar,” but it’s clear from the music’s tone, atmosphere, and general pace that it’s less about the dynamic between two dissimilar concepts than about producing an intriguingly sensuous haze. Blending glitchy electronica tempos with the trippy vibes of indie folk, Wilkinson has crafted a noisy, writhing record full of morose, urban landscapes and exotic textures. As its name suggests, Mind Bokeh is fluid and formless, committing to pop structure and melodies one moment only to eschew them the next, often all within the same track.
There’s no better example of Wilkinson’s deft hand than “Pretentious,” which begins with a haunting, slicing harp reminiscent of Bat for Lashes, blooms into a ponderous, jangly funk tune a minute in, and then deconstructs its melody with nightmarish glee toward an eerie, false conclusion. After 15 seconds or so of silence, the earlier, sunnier hook eases in to offer a charmed, retro jazz-lounge farewell. And so, as with much of the mysterious Mind Bokeh, soundscapes fade in and out with a teasing uncertainty. If Wilkinson’s songs were sentences, there would be ellipses at both ends, neither starting nor ending with any definitive certainty. Mind Bokeh thus reflects the confused despair of Wilkinson’s narratives in its music: In tracks like “Wake Up!” or “Feminine Eye,” his vocals are painted in disturbing but beautiful harmonies, his lyrics vague and pleading. When he asks, brokenly, “How was I supposed know?” in “Excuses,” listeners can hear an ambiguous doom behind his words.
There are highlights beyond the esoteric and tragic funk though. “Artists’ Valley” stretches and snaps behind stream-of-consciousness observations, moving confidently atop the revolving pluck of its guitar sample. On “Anything New,” Wilkinson infuses a start-stop rhythm with the buttery sounds of glo-fi, the groovy, flute-like synths far outstripping anything from chillwave master Toro y Moi’s recent Underneath the Pine. But it’s the penultimate “Saint Christoper”—a wistful, six-minute odyssey of skittering samples and analog fuzz—that catches Wilkinson at his best: Wonderfully lacking in self-awareness, intimate to a fault, and yet coolly intriguing, with an undeniable confidence in conveying the unfocused, alluring beauty of “bokeh.”