Review Summary: Without doing any research: if I had to venture a guess, I'd say the term "Bokeh" means "summer-album".
OK, not really. "Bokeh" is actually a photography term which describes the aesthetic quality of a blur in an out-of-focus image. Photographers can manipulate the lens to create various effects with bokeh, sometimes to create images with prominent out-of-focus regions. So, what does this have to do with Bibio? Well, anyone familiar with his previous work can see how parts of this apply to his sound. In his early days, Stephen Wilkinson (the man known as Bibio) used electronic distortion and warping blended over acoustic, folk-like arrangements. The music had an out-of-focus quality that made it sound haunting and comforting, old and new, all at the same time. Then came the phenomenal "Ambivalence Avenue", which genre-hopped so much from track to track that it was disorienting, almost seeming like a new artist/album from one song to the next. While some of his old sound could be heard if you really listened, he had all but done away with the "folktronica" that got him his start. "Ambivalence Avenue" was a critical favorite upon arrival, so pressure to do something as jarringly different must have been high.
It makes me happy to say that Wilkinson pulled through yet again, delivering an album that feels as far removed from "Ambivalence Avenue" as "Ambivalence Avenue" did from "Hand Cranked". Bibio proves once again that, in the right hands, change can be a great thing. The album opens with "Excuses", which actually begins like much of his early work, before turning into full-blown, stuttering electronica at the song's mid-point. "Pretentious" follows, and it starts eerily, like some warped horror-film theme. However, the song tonally changes on a dime, something this album does quite often. At this point, the album almost seems like a darker counterpoint to "Ambivalence Avenues" sound. "Anything New" is where the "Bokeh" becomes a fully-realized summer album. The beat is strongly reminiscent of Camp-Lo's "Luchini" (one of the best party hip-hop songs ever in my opinion). "Wake Up!" and "Light Sleep" follow, the latter sounding a lot like ""Jealous Of Roses" from "Ambivalence Ave".
"Take Off Your Shirts" is his most interesting experiment on the album, a love-it-or-hate-it song, places right in the center of the album. Prior to release, he claimed this song was influenced by Thin Lizzy, who couldn't sound any different than any of his prior releases. Personally, I think it's a great song, but could see how some would be turned off. The guitar parts certainly owe a debt to Thin Lizzy (or other like-minded bands of that era), but it's still unmistakably Bibio upon a closer listen. Two strong tracks follow, the Flying Lotus-esque "Artists Valley" and "K Is For Kelson", the latter bringing to mind an updated version of "Solsbury Hill" at times. The title track is a short bit of ambient noise, almost like a break to lead to the album's close. "More Excuses" follows, using the technique of changing sound mid-song that so much of the album uses. It starts gentle, and ends up a warped mess by the end, but a good mess.
"Feminine Eye" is the penultimate track, a smooth love-song featuring horns, one which brings his vocals to the forefront. In fact, if I had one gripe about the album, it's that Bibio didn't focus on his vocals, which certain songs on "Ambivalence Avenue" (Palm of Your Wave, for example) proved to be quite lovely. The album close, the six and a half minute "Saint Christopher", ends the album on a strong note, with a vocal-less song that builds, only to drop off, and then build again. It's probably the one song on the album that brings to mind his pre-"AA" albums, but it still maintains a sunny disposition. Bibio's changes from album to album are very admirable, but the maintenance in quality while doing so is what's most impressive. I have no idea what the next album will bring, but I can't wait to see what he comes with next. So give it a listen. Ignore the definition of "Bokeh" if you want to, and decide what it means to you when you're done.