Bibio: fi

Scientific American: Strong for the Future

Bibio's fi and Scientific American's Strong for the Future have a few things in common: they're both instrumental debuts issued on Mush with each harbouring a Boards of Canada connection (Bibio was recommended to Mush by Boards' member Marcus Eoin while Scientific American's album reveals the Warp group's conspicuous influence). Yet they're also dramatically different: fi is largely comprised of ambient-folk vignettes, while Strong for the Future merges Boards-styled IDM with hip-hop in powerful and refreshing manner.

Of course, the pastoral haze that rises from fi's seventeen settings recalls Boards of Canada too; not only does the title of “Cherry Blossom Road,” for example, suggest the group but so too does its blurry ambiance, as does “Wet Flakey Bark” with wavering guitar ripples so muffled they could be mistaken for piano. But the sparkling bluegrass psychedelia that emerges in the lovely companion pieces “Bewley in White” and “Bewley in Grey” firmly establishes Bibio's own sound. Dreamy cascades of guitar shimmer caress bucolic melodies in many songs with “Looking Through the Facets of a Plastic Jewel” an especially lovely instance, with the piece distinguished by chiming filigrees of guitars, so dense and full they mask the angelic blur haunting its background.

The album might seem long at seventeen tracks but many (typically blurry ambient interludes) are in the one- to two-minute range, so the album feels both substantial and digestible; Englander Stephen Wilkinson further personalizes the Bibio sound (named after a kind of fishing lure used by his father during trips to Wales, incidentally) by incorporating liberal helpings of field elements; crackling noises almost drown out the bright uptempo picking of the guitars in “Puddled in the Morning,” for example. A marked Eastern dimension emerges in his music too, as evidenced by the hypnotic, mantra-like folk of “Lakeside” and the closer “Poplar Avenue” where looping elements blurrily coalesce into a trance-like drone. Enhanced by its ‘home-made' feel (sleeve info notes that it was recorded in various bedrooms, box rooms, and living rooms in London and Wolverhampton, England), the album is best broached as a whole, such that the intermittent fragments assume greater weight as delicate parts of a larger impressionistic fabric. fi impresses as an unassuming yet inviting essay in pastoral placidity, an alluring distillation of country vistas half-glimpsed through early morning mists.

Imagine Boards of Canada pushed to a greater hip-hop extreme and you'll have some hint of Andrew Rohrmann's Scientific American sound; Strong for the Future is also less hazy and nostalgia-ridden than either Geogaddi or Music Has a Right to Children but make no mistake: Scientific American's album transcends derivation and impresses mightily on its own terms as it fuses sculpted beats and chopped voices into mesmerizing wholes. The album's compelling sound is signaled immediately by the melancholy weave of harp-like plucks and electronics in the opener “When It Was Ever Everything” but then impresses even more strongly when “Strong for the Future” fuses Bootsy Holler's sliced warble with sculpted hip-hop beats into a magical hymn.

Perhaps Rohrmann's greatest strength is his ability to transform the familiar tropes and techniques of electronic assembly into eminently musical settings, a strength never more evident than in his treatment of vocal material. Holler re-appears in “The Seas Are the Skies,” the bright flares of her siren whispers paired with dramatic string and piano atmospheres that grow majestically into an oceanic mass. Rohrmann finds room for a slightly more conventional vocal approach in “Drift In Place” when he chops a vocal from 764-Hero's John Atkins into stuttering electro-funk. By contrast, “Million Lines (Slow Fade)” presents an incredible micro-symphony of fragmented babble alongside a delicate base of rolling skitter and electronic murmur, while “Between Urban Movements” sashays in with loping funk accompanied by a voice fragmented and swizzled into whorling glossalalia.

The non-vocal pieces impress too, though they're slightly less dynamic. “Victory Hold Still” conjures elegant charm by underlay pastoral hiccups with the nimble thump of sparse throbs and scurrying clatter, while the brooding lurch of “Four Hour Window” snakily maps a clandestine route through a deserted nocturnal metropolis. The slightly less cohesive “We All Are Already Are” brings the album full circle by re-introducing the opener's harp plucks and pairing them with a seemingly more randomized assortment of piano embellishments and clicking beats, almost as if Rohrmann wanted to pack all of the album's material into a single piece. Even a slight lapse in the closer does little to erode one's appreciation for this remarkable outing. In fact, Strong for the Future is so accomplished, it's hard to believe that Andrew Rohrmann isn't an old master.

May 2005