Album Review: Bicep – Isles

7.5/10

Bicep Isles artwork

It’s far from unusual for producers of electronic to turn themselves into live performers – a move paralleling Kraftwerk’s ironic substitution of themselves for dummies and beyond – but it’s been comparatively rare for them to occupy the festival headlining slots reserved for rock bands.

There have been exceptions (for instance Orbital, who’ve been toting their Maglite schtick at Glastonbury for what feels like forever) but new blood has felt long overdue, and so it was with some relief when the likes of Disclosure, Maribou State and Bicep emerged, all children of a time long after the original rave and acid house movements kicked up their final dust.

Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson formed Bicep in Northern Ireland over a decade ago, before relocating to a London which in the early part of the last decade was a melting pot of clubbing diversity and largely pretension free nights out.

A series of progressively ambitious EPs eventually landed them a deal with Ninja Tune and, released in 2017, their self-titled debut was a fine marker, overloaded with warehouse ready bangers and an assured touch earned through DJing from the bottom up.

The duo are savvy enough to realise that its follow up lands in a totally different world however. Channelling the now fading euphoria of a triumphant, globetrotting subsequent couple of years, Isles is also consciously spliced with the stuck-in melancholia of the last twelve months.

It’s a record crafted deliberately to fit the moment, built for home consumption with its creators promising that, when we finally consume it in the flesh, the edge will be sharper, harder and more direct.

Of the two states of mind, opener Atlas is a conception of the first, intricate but sleek techno lines with a mystical, eastern-tinged vocal which seems to have drifted in from a long disremembered Goa beach.

There’s a similarly mood-laden vibe to Sundial, its inversions built from a loop created by a broken piece of equipment, and featuring a heavily treated Bollywood sample that sounds like it comes from a ghost.

Other people’s voices are always deceptively hard to patch into your music, but the use of Malawian singers and a Bulgarian female vocal choir on Apricots, backdropped with a minimalist synth riff, almost qualifies as a work of art, rivalling Bonobo for subtlety in treating world music to sympathetic incorporation.

If Bicep are making the planet smaller and our bedrooms bigger, the places they teleport us to are sometimes less exotic and, strangely, it’s these more limited excursive horizons that feel best: closer Hawk expertly picks out a twisting Berliner line, strobing in and out of a hypnotic foreground, but it’s Saku that should be most anticipated when sweat can soak the skin again, a hall-of-mirrors rework of 90’s UK garage tastefully boostered by the glacially cool tones of Clara Le San.

In our time-limited journey on earth, this period will eventually end up as just something we endured. Bicep have recognised the need to satisfy the omens of the past, the present and the future, and Isles will handsomely do for now until its tougher sibling is allowed to rise from a supercharged PA near you – one day.

Andy Peterson

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