English music producer Stephen Wilkinson (the main man behind Bibio) has been duly noted by music critics for carving out his own genre of ‘folktronica’: an experimental blend of electronic and folk music. With his sixth studio album, Mind Bokeh (2001) – ‘bokeh’ is a Japanese photography term that refers to image blur – Wilkinson professed his intention to produce “an electric sounding album rather than an acoustic album. It’s not very electronic in many ways – I’m still using live instruments and live percussion, but it’s just that the overall effect in ‘Mind Bokeh’ is neon and artificial sounding. That was the intention anyway” (Clash, 2011).
The ‘neon and artificial sounding’ effect works quite well on ‘Take Off Your Shirt’, a distant, monotonous, and vaguely melancholic commentary on the hollowness and excesses of an overt party culture. As a Resident Advisor review notes, the track stands out as being more pop-influenced than the rest of the album: “the rocking "Take Off Your Shirt," which pairs hair-metal riffage with pounding drums, is a move that initially sticks out like a misguided sore thumb, but eventually emerges as the album's most overt pop song”.
The opening verses quickly establish a typical party scene, described in grittily poetic language:
‘Saturday, when the hair comes down
All the girls in town gonna dress the place
In blue-eyed green-eyed brown-eyed light
All the boys with desire of night
Gonna lose their feet gonna lose their mind
In drinking fighting sweat and lust
We play the game of weaving ducking dodging hiding
Through the hormonal battle on the streets
Then we reach our destination’.
It is consolation for star-people constellation
Kevin Liedel of Slant Magazine has noted that Mind Bokeh “reflects the confused despair of Wilkinson’s narratives in its music”, and in this case the ‘confused despair’ seems to be felt by the ‘star-people constellation’ of party-goers. The lyrical persona describes, with persistent distance, the emptiness, the non-tragic melancholy, the mind-numbing party rituals and the playing out of hormonal desire on the dance floor. During the chorus, Wilkinson chants monotonously:
"Sadness in rags won't feel the pain/ Of sadness in silks and golden chains
Take off your shirt/ And give it to the one with fur coats and shiny shoes
Sadness in rags won't feel the pain/ Of sadness in silks and golden chains
Take off your shirt/ And give it to the one with fur coats and shiny shoes."
There’s seems to be an implicit commentary here, about the modern man’s loss of meaning in a materialistic urban setting, driven to repressive desublimation with the help of garish music, loads of alcohol, and the promise of no-strings hook-up in the dark: ‘And all the one night love is jaded/ When all the memories have faded”.
While Pitchfork reviewer Mark Richardson agonized over the track’s lack of appeal (“With its blocky guitar riff and canned beat, "Shirt" is stiff and downright unlikable”), I think the ‘unlikeability’ is part of the aesthetic – the listener needs to feel the artificiality and monotony of the kind of party culture being criticized, to be fully immersed in Bibio's 'anti-party' aesthetic.