A record that calls for multiple and detailed listens, and rewards attentiveness
Sofie Lindevall
11:51 20th January 2021

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Bicep’s self-titled debut album catapulted the Belfast-born, London-based duo into the public’s ears when released in 2017. What started as two friends – Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson – sharing their love for hidden synth, house, funk and Italo disco gems on the now infamous blog-turned-club night and record label FeelMyBicep, had with the release of the 12 track LP solidly established the duo as a household name on not only the underground, but also the mainstream, dance music scene.

Two years in the making, follow-up Isles was already eagerly awaited when the duo dropped singles ‘Atlas’, ‘Apricots’ and ‘Saku’ to almost melancholically accompany many housebound daydreams of packed dancefloors free of social distancing during 2020. Celebrated by fans and critics alike, it became increasingly clear with every new track released that Bicep’s sophomore album had grown to be one the most anticipated releases of 2021.

Much like on their first album, Bicep fluidly moves between genres with a pallete that showcases their love for the dancefloor on Isles. Opening track ‘Atlas’ instantaneously soaks its listener in waves of euphonic yet achingly nostalgic synths. Rich layers and textures of electronics are accompanied by breakbeat percussion and occasional flowy vocal melodies, creating a musical juxtaposition that is subtly apparent throughout the album. The highs are high - nearly ecstatic at points - but even during its most elated moments, the album never fully lets go of its inherent sadness.

Whether intentional or not, Isles very much captures the essence of the rollercoaster existence many of us have found ourselves in over the past year. The album is beautifully comforting and unsettling all at once – from the sorrow that flickers through in choirs alongside sprinkles of melodic percussion on the hypnotic ‘Lido’, to the intensely expansive ‘X’ that transforms from its retro electro intro into a full synth symphony of emotions. Despite attempting to do a lot, the album never feels incoherent and even the mesmerisingly melancholic anthem ‘Apricots’, one of the best tracks of last year, is taken to another level of greatness surrounded by the other 9 tracks on the record.

Isles is an album that, with its paradoxical layers of complexity, not only calls for multiple and detailed listens, but rewards attentiveness. “This is the home listening version”, Matt McBriar has said about the album, while also mentioning that “the live version will be much, much harder”. Dance music is not exclusively for dancing and Isles is a prime example of an album that can be placed in a different context effortlessly. Still, we cannot wait to hear what Bicep has in store for Isles in a world where it is safe for dancing to move back to big dance floors after temporarily having had to relocate to kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms. 

Isles arrives 22 January via Ninja Tune. Buy it here.

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Photo: Press