Even though Bibio's Stephen Wilkinson has evoked many places and states of mind with his music, from Vignetting the Compost's rural charm to Ambivalence Avenue's citified eclecticism, there hasn't been anything quite like the hypnotic realm of Phantom Brickworks. On albums such as A Mineral Love, Wilkinson focused on his skills as a pop chameleon; this time, he brings the ambient atmospheres that provided the glue for his stylistic shifts to the fore, and in retrospect, the interludes that graced his previous albums feel like portals into this one. As Phantom Brickworks' title suggests, Wilkinson balances the spectral and the architectural on these carefully layered but seemingly weightless tracks, which sound like they're crafted from the still-reverberating echoes of the past. Indeed, the gently decaying drones and pianos that are the heart of the album could be reincarnated from his earliest work, but in these slowly unfolding sound sculptures, they gain new life. The album's three-part namesake piece exemplifies its newfound depth and subtlety. On "Phantom Brickworks," a radiant drone underpins clouds of distant piano and gently rustling percussion; "Phantom Brickworks II" gives the same sounds a darker, rainier cast; and "Phantom Brickworks III" clears out the storm with wordless vocals and ringing chords. The album's shorter pieces pack just as much mood as the longer ones, particularly on the somber saxophone vignette "Ivy Charcoal" and the eerie "Capel Celyn," which pays tribute to a North Wales village that was turned into a reservoir with sorrowful drones and submerged chapel bells. Hushed yet haunting, Phantom Brickworks offers a beautiful new perspective on Bibio's music.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares