Review Summary: Ambivalence Avenue is fresh and funky, combining soulful and nostalgic vocals and guitar with modern dance beats to create something entirely new.
Whenever June rolls around, one of the prominent musical questions asked frequently is: "What is your
summer album?" Unlike "favorite" or "most promising" album, the meaning of a "summer album" is up for interpretation. What does a "summer album" consist of? What makes it a "summer album"? Why not any other seasons? Due to these possible confusions, the answer to that question has always been a tough one for me. In fact, there has only been one year where I have been completely sure of the answer, and that is this year. The name of the album in question is Ambivalence Avenue
, and it's by, straight out of Britain, a man named Stephen Wilkinson (stage name: Bibio).
Why is Ambivalence Avenue
a "summer album"? Despite being of a genre that doesn't usually encompass summery moods, the album is, from the ground up, a bright and sunny album. It's got everything: pop anthems that sample soulful guitars, electronic dance jams, even a gentle love song. All of these are wrapped in an ethereal package, which usually include his muffled but gentle vocals. A perfect example is the opener and title track, which starts off with a swinging guitar line. Soon after the guitar line is introduced, the song begins its journey, by adding a dance beat and Wilkinson's peacefully faint vocals. The song has an easy flow and could effortlessly appeal to almost any type of music listener; from indietronica fans to fans of chill-out guitar music.
In there lies the strength of Bibio's music: while having enough effects poured onto it to be considered part of the lo-fi/experimental scene, the songs are soulful and danceable, and include a huge asset: being unbelievably catchy. "Fire Ant," the best song on the album, is another perfect example of this. Over a skittering IDM-esque beat, Bibio samples soul vocals and smooth synths, coalescing into a summery downtempo dance track that will allure the musical attention of just about anyone. However, "Fire Ant" also contains his biggest musical liability: its last minute meanders without much significance, as most of the songs on the album do for their second half. While this gives the music an interesting, atmospheric touch, it also makes it lose some of its mainstream appeal.
Towards the end of the album, Bibio also shows promise as a non-electronic artist; guitar-based songs "Lovers' Carvings," "Abrasion," and "The Palm of Your Wave" have almost none of the familiar beats, and instead showcase Wilkinson's beautiful vocal harmonies reminiscent of indie-folk bands such as Fleet Foxes. Not only are these songs just as good as the dance-oriented ones, but they also show Bibio's numerous talents, not just as an "folktronica" artist, but also as a straight-up folk artist.
Without a doubt one of the strongest and most enjoyable releases of the year, Ambivalence Avenue
is both nostalgic and excitingly modern. It is the sound of an artist becoming bored with his own limitations and breaking creative barriers, coming out with something fresh and better than ever. If Ambivalence Avenue
is the soundtrack to the summer, then it's definitely one hell of a summer.