On his earlier 2016 release A Mineral Love, low-fi electronica artist Bibio (née Stephen Wilkinson) utilized Olivier St. Louis’s angelic croon on the playfully keen track “Why So Serious?.” The seed of a beautiful R&B psychedelia union having been planted, it came to many as no surprise when the duo reunited for a blossoming EP, assumedly titled after the song that started this partnership. While Bibio usually explores the electronic psychedelia realm with great success, he has expanded his territory for The Serious EP to add in bouncy ’80s synth and R&B effects that subtly weave in between shuffling beats and the aqueous electric guitar featured in many of his tracks. The combination provides a bright foil to St. Louis’s soft falsetto, sliding in and out of the layered instrumentals.
The pair had a mutual respect for each other before they started the collaboration, working almost exclusively on tracks over email and communicating through WhatsApp. Most of the instrumentals, provided by Wilkinson, were outtakes and leftover tracks from A Mineral Love, modified in part to mesh more effectively with St. Louis’s lyrics (all lyrics on The Serious EP were written by St. Louis, though Bibio is a songwriter as well). Interestingly, the vocals on the EP’s final track were written for an alternate version of “A Mineral Love.” While the original “A Mineral Love” provided the title track to A Mineral Love, the alternate version became “Night Falls.” The similarities in the instrumentals of the two tracks, while subtle, shine through upon a second listen.
The opening track is the familiar “Why So Serious?,” which was included in A Mineral Love; it continues to be a great reminder of how two solo artists can make excellent collaborators. Growling synth and a staccato underlying beat make for an undeniably groovy sensation, strengthened still by St. Louis’s playful lyrics and sexy R&B croon. “Make Up” is a more subdued track, with St. Louis singing barely above a whispered falsetto; Bibio’s own instrumental influences are featured more heavily here, with rolling synthetic beats and methodical guitar chords. “Stress Me Out” begins with a staccato beat and more aggressive electric guitar; the music is as blunt and forward as Bibio seems capable of, and is the farthest he strays in this EP from his normal areas of expertise. St. Louis demonstrates his excellent vocal abilities on this track, catapulting from a nasal whine to a simmering falsetto, descending the scale again with ease. “Night Falls” is a sultry track replete with synthetic shimmer effects (oh, to revisit that era again) and low, soft vocals mixed with sweet falsetto. The bass line shines in this song, enhancing the retro themes and grounding the track.
The Serious EP is, in all reality, anything but what it professes to be. Bibio has made a rather successful career off the utilization of retro sounds and rhythms, and he does not stray from the path for this EP. Instead, he and St. Louis capture the quintessential R&B and keep it pleasant and light, singing about love in broad strokes to smooth, jaunty tunes. While many R&B artists (looking at you, Frank Turner and Blood Orange) have repeatedly revolutionized the genre and helped buoy its relevance in the changing political and social climate, Bibio and Olivier St. Louis have released a nostalgic, good-natured EP that harkens back to simpler themes. Bibio is not a bona-fide R&B artist by trade, so while he utilizes many of those thematic elements in The Serious EP, he also continues to incorporate his own musical influences. Consider it R&B Lite: providing a glossy, breezy collection of tracks that float just above the current R&B climate.
Album released: September 2, 2016
–review by Juliana Van Amsterdam