Bicep’s first record was astounding, it reached commercial acclaim, underground applause, and bridged the gap between die hard dance music lovers, and those casual listeners. A quite frankly incredible achievement, in a musical world where peoples opinions are more divided than ever. Their second album was always going to be a tricky record to make, with constant comparisons and expectations being as high as ever, Isles is a brilliant second album. One released at an impossibly difficult time for dance music.
It has been a long time coming, opening track and powerful single; Atlas being released at the beginning of 2020. It is a perfect encapsulation of the whole record, a single to represent what they have tried to achieve with the rest of the album. The video of Job Jobse playing it at White Hotel is one of those Identification of Music clips that has stuck with me throughout the gloomy haze of a clubless 2020. Or even better, the ‘unreleased Bicep’ video of them playing Atlas at their own curated Warehouse Project. This song was set to smash the summer, I am sure it would have been the first and last song of many artist’s sets, let alone Bicep’s. With that being said, it is hard to even listen to this track without feeling you aren’t hearing it in its rightful place. It is a soaring, weighty and emotion-packed breakbeat beauty.
The rest of the album is different, many reviews and opinions of the album mention its club focus, and how its a great album in the context of your “living room rave”. Following from Atlas I didn’t feel much of the album was club focused or festival ready.
Instead there is a real focus on broken melodies and ambient synths as the duo have almost abandoned any 4×4 focus that brought them such success with; Orca or Aura in their first album. This is not a bad thing, second track Cazenove has a robotic and recurring vocal, which beautifully compliments the shuddering highs and sensational sounds only Bicep are capable of making.
Apricots was the second single released, a more prominent and clear vocal accompanying what is featured throughout. A emotive and somewhat sad synth. Like much of the album this song feels meditative and soothing.
The feature of Clara La San brings even more emotion to an album full to the brim with such. She is featured twice, standout feature being X. An obvious electro influenced beat is without the vocals of La San, but featuring her heavy but essential instrumental touch.
Rever is the most typical “Bicep” sounding track of the whole album, it would have nestled right into their first record, but I am glad it is here in this second album. It would have gone missing amongst the big room noise the first album achieved. It features composer and cellist Julia Kent.
Penultimate track Fir is my favourite of the whole album and maybe my favourite Bicep track to date. Its ethereal opening slowly builds towards an airly addictive kick. It truly takes you somewhere other than your bedroom whilst listening, the wail of an almost flanger effect bounces from earphone to earphone throughout a build up and drop which is quite simply put, epic.
As I sit and write this, Isles sits second in the British album charts, a phenomenal achievement. Ranking music by its position in a chart is not something I often find particularly valuable however this position means an experimental dance duo have reached the summit of British popular music, whilst making an album the likes of which hasn’t even reached the top hundred, let alone the top ten.
Despite Bicep’s development as a brand, with flashy new merch and big old album advertisement boards throughout London, their music has remained true to what has got them their success in the first place. Like few artists of any genre, let alone dance, they have continued to prove their music is unlike anyone else’s and yet bridges that gap between those who go to a festival as it is the one all their friends go to, and people who go to that festival knowing every artist and every other tune that’s played.