Whenever I listen to a Bibio album I always imagine that I must be experiencing something similar to raising a child: I'm constantly being let down, and I never know if it's my problem or his. On Ambivalence Avenue every polished, enjoyable electropop ditty was followed by a minute or more of sub-Eno ambient nonsense, with catchy dubstep ragers sandwiching unbearably precious folk excursions that made Moldy Peaches sound like Napalm Death. It was like a Crackerjack box that came with a toy whistle as well as a free scorpion: Equal parts delightful, useless and baffling. Mind Bokeh tightens things up a bit, and while its individual moments don't stand up with Bibio's best, none of it made me want to call Stephen Wilkinson and ask him what the hell he was thinking, which I suppose is a step up.
Be advised, there are still a handful of actively bad choices here. "Pretentious" wastes a solid minute of your time with a Roxy Music-ish saxophone solo tacked on at the end and "Excuses" begins with 1:30 of bass-y ambient warbling. You'd be forgiven for thinking that Wilkinson was up to his old shit just based off the first two tracks, and in truth the more annoying elements of his music never leave entirely. But things pick up with "Anything New", which is sort of like what you would imagine Passion Pit to sound like if somebody controlled those dudes' sugar intake, and "Wake Up!" has a grooving, psychedelic vibe that carries Mind Bokeh's relatively mellow vibes to the end. It's a largely conventional electropop album throughout that pleases at most every turn but never manages to excite or even really raise the listener's interest above passivity.
While consistent, standout moments are few and far between-"K is For Kelson" is the closest this album has to a breakout hit, and "Artists' Valley" starts out in a far more interesting place than it ends up-it doesn't devolve into total idiocy like "Haiku(When She Laughs)" did on Ambivalence Avenue, but one can't help but feel that Wilkinson wasted something with this song. "Take Off Your Shirt" is memorable, in that stupid-but-inoffensive way that a lot of indie pop is these days, and the rest of Mind Bokeh strolls to the album's 52 minute end time without leaving much of an impression at all. One gets the feeling that Wilkinson wanted to make a breakout pop hit, but he also wanted to keep a lot of his trademark bullshit in an attempt to remain true to his own artistic values, misguided as they may be. What you end up with is an indie pop album that forgot to shave mixed with an "experimental" album that doesn't seem like it wants to be there at all. It's an album that can't decide what to do and as such simply chooses to do nothing, and while that's less infuriating than an album that takes insane chances and misses about 1 in 3 of them, it's also far, far less interesting and doesn't serve as much beyond background music.
Wilkinson, at this point, needs to shit or get off the pot. He can be the next Phoenix and grab a comfy spot at the next Outside Lands festival or he can keep playing with his folk/ambient/funk toys and keep the core audience of weirdos who appreciate that horseradish, but he clearly, clearly can't do both. His Pop sensibilities preclude his Everything Else sensibilities, and vice versa, and that makes Mind Bokeh a consistently vague record with little of interest to offer any part of his potential, or even established, fanbase. Electronica is a crowded house right now, and if Bibio wants to stay on the radar he's going to have to pick a strength to play or fade into the mass. As a music listener, it's already hard enough to make up your mind on what to listen to; why waste time on an artist who can't even make up his own?