Album review: Bibio – Phantom Brickworks

Bibio’s Phantom Brickworks is far from your average album, but if you are looking for something out of the ordinary, look no further…

Phantom Brickworks is less of an album as such, and more of a collection of spaces and the transitions between them. Pieced together with over 10 years of improvisational field recordings, it is Bibio’s first entirely ambient project. These textures have been based around haunted spaces, and instead of referring specifically to ghosts, the tracks are actually telling the history of these places. It leaves listeners wondering, guessing and imagining things that may not be there, and the beauty really is in the unknown on this album. The recordings themselves have taken over a decade to collect, and have been sourced from both rural and urban locations across the UK; as well as inspiring many track titles.

Critics have been particularly kind with regards to Bibio’s latest release, even though it is much more experimental than his earlier works. For this year’s release he has decided to stick firmly to the ambient theme, instead of his usual array of genres and influences that he has displayed before. Even though on his previous “folktronica” releases he flirted with ambience and space, he did not fully commit. Phantom Brickworks has found a home on Warp Records, one of electronic music’s most influential labels. As Bibio joins the insane roster of Aphex Twin, Autechre and Boards of Canada, he is also carrying on the label’s strong tradition of ambient music.

The sheer textural detail, and immersive nature of the release, can be felt from the opening seconds of “09:13”. Those who may have been sceptical, will already be intrigued by an emotive and steady melody. There are much more than just field recordings on display here, as Bibio takes listeners on their first journey. It is less challenging than expected, as well as somehow sounding both warm and cold at the same time. The album’s title track is fairly musical as well, and features what appears to be plucked and bowed strings, droning constantly. There are certainly some similarities to Burial, especially on “Pantglas” which hovers between atonal awkwardness, and stunning chords. However in stark contrast to Burial’s work, the majority of what you hear has been recorded by Bibio himself. With a subtle glimpse of echoing percussion or foley in the background, there is just enough to form a loop; but far from a groove.

“Phantom Brickworks II” does not sound too far from label mates Boards of Canada, and as the album progresses we also hear influences from another Warp affiliate Aphex Twin. Not everything is harsh, disjointed, or uncomfortably tough, and the result is far less experimental than you may have assumed. There are of course some fairly odd moments, but they are perfect to get lost in. As the indistinguishable elements come and go, it is hard to avoid an almost meditative state.

“Ivy Charcoal” is one of the shortest tracks on offer, but at just over 2 minutes it fits in a stunning selection of distant, jazzy brass, accompanied by what appears to be running water. The whole album has a certain grand-ness, and even in the dark shadows, there is nothing to be scared of. With the harshness of the field recordings, comes friendly piano’s and other familiar musical instruments.  Even on the more traditional “songs”, it is still easy to lose track of time, as you become fully immersed in Bibio’s world.

“Phantom Brickworks” is a rare find in today’s musical climate, and is an album worthy of a listen from start to finish. That being said, it is also harder to find a favourite, or a “single”, but that was never the intention. Instead the album works as a kind of score for an imaginary film, in which the decaying nature of the imagery is mirrored within the music itself. Come and get lost in a fantastic pair of headphones at your local Richer Sounds today.