Bicep strike a beautiful balance between epic, dense soundscapes and intricate production finesse on their new album Isles. The Belfast duo develops their sound from their eponymous debut, choosing richer thicker textures that capture the same intense elation present in tracks like ‘Glue’ from their first album.
On ‘Saku’ one of Isles’ standout tracks, Bicep blend an ominous rolling drum beat and Clara La Sana’s breathy eerie vocals with bass-laden synths that fill the bottom end of a track that grows in intensity as it progresses. La Sana’s vocals are nonchalantly delivered, whispering the Craig David style melody laced with sweet dissonance in an entrancing fashion.
The backbone of most tracks on the album consists of smooth yet screeching synths and epic bass that washes through each track like tidal-waves. The drums are more diverse on Isles than they were on their previous album. The hi-hats’ washy nature, combined with abrasive kick-drums and tight rim-shots, creates a fascinating tension in each track. ‘Orca’ most closely resembles the drum sounds on this album however tracks like ‘X’ and ‘Sundial’ are host to some wonderfully bizarre innovation to Bicep’s drums, one of the most exciting elements of their music.
‘X’ utilizes an eclectic mix of unique percussive sounds to make up the beat. It makes for slightly disorienting listening in the midst of possibly the most complex cut of the album. A stammering synth lead that stumbles over itself in broken arpeggios sits on top of a swelling chord progression. The junk-yard style percussion is the highlight of ‘X’ and one of the album’s highlights.
‘Sundial’ increases the intensity starting with a frenetic drum beat similar to Hanz Zimmer’s ‘Mombassa’. The vocals slice through the track with an emotive strain as much of the vocals do in this album, creating an almost biblical feel. Many of the vocal melodies on Isles are resembling of broken laments and calls to prayer.
‘Lido’ splits the album down the middle and acts as an interval for an album playing with two different sonic aesthetics. It is the most understated of all the tracks and is centred around a simple and repetitive piano loop. It features some beautiful intricacies such as the synth that scrapes against the track’s underbelly as it fades in and out.
‘Atlas’ the opening track outlines the album’s main musical themes, with its swirling synths, vibrating bass and fizzing drums. ‘Apricots’ the second single flirts with a wobbling melody and punchy drum beat similar to those found on Bicep. This is the album’s standout track, the rhythmic vocal loop coupled with the chanted vocals in a transcendental manner.
Bicep manages to distinguish themselves from others in their field on this album. The music is not simply for fist-pumping or strictly dancing; it is a deep exploration of new sounds to make something that can be set apart from its contemporaries. It is one of the albums of the moment. A dense sonic experience that can be enjoyed in solitude whilst serving as a reminder of the good times spent in others’ company that will someday return.