[ALBUM REVIEW] Bicep – Isles
Release: 22nd January 2021
Label: Ninja Tune
Singles: Atlas, Apricots, Saku
Bicep’s self-titled debut struck a chord with a vast, hungry audience, after which the duo skyrocketed to headliners with almost-instant classics Glue and Aura. Famed live shows followed, with now-iconic sets at Printworks rivalling The Chemical Brothers as one of the finest electronic music experiences out there. Four years later, a lot has changed however. This leaves Isles in a strange dance music purgatory, one that feels an age away from the duo’s earlier days in almost every aspect.
Atlas, the first single and opening track from the album, epitomises the LP’s direction, and sums up exactly what to expect from the rest of the project. The song is well produced and shimmering with the Bicep sound we’d expect by now, and is just enough to get you dreaming of danceable days. Cazenove continues a similar theme, one that intrigues but far from astounds.
Apricots and Saku are undoubted improvements, but unfortunately the only legitimate ‘bangas mate’ from the LP. The former’s punchy, much talked-about samples make for a future festival favourite, while Saku’s cinematic progression, eery synths and outstanding vocals shine out as Bicep at their very best. Bizarrely, the edge is then taken off with interlude-y instrumental Lido, as if forcing the listener to return to normality.
The C side of the vinyl (tracks 7 + 8) are almost entirely led by percussion. The drums on Rever are slopped, chopped and draped over dreamy synths and twisted vocals, straight out of the Burial playbook. Sundail takes this call on drums even further, with dystopian, military-style patterns primed for use in a final showdown scene from your favourite anime.
At this point it’s hard not to describe Isles so far as ‘flat’ and dare I say ‘blank’. Progression and tension are ongoing elements of the LP, but without that releasing euphoria of a drop or rave-ready beat. Each song gets to a point, continues as is, and then fades away. Things do end nicely with Hawk however, a filtered [to fuck] intro grows and extorts into a memorable closer, albeit powered by the same formula as Saku.
Isles is a polished 50 minutes that meanders by, while never really grabbing your attention like their debut LP demanded. Drops and big hitting baselines, two defining Bicep attributes, are near absent from the album, and besides Saku there’s not that much to write home about. The Bicep boys have marketed Isles as a supporting product to this era of the band, meant to be enjoyed alongside their live shows. This obviously couldn’t happen, so what we’re left with are the remnants of an unachievable idea. Isles is perfectly fine as it is, but meant to be enjoyed in completely different circumstances. And it shows.
Verdict – 6.5/10