BICEP have made a statement with their self-titled debut album, not only have they further showcased their ability to seamlessly intertwine genres, but they have laid solid framework for future album artists. Ever since the moment they teased closing track Aura to the world and announced they would release an album, the Northern Ireland duo almost automatically entered themselves into the upper echelons of electronic music.
Of course you’ve got the likes of FJAAK and Dusky who also leaped into the ‘LP pond’ not so long ago, but it hasn’t been a common thing for artists of the electronic world recently. The flow between tracks is almost as important as the tracks themselves, which must have taken a good deal of time for Andy & Matt to gel perfectly. Even though we travel through the worlds of breakbeat, trance and progressive house, to name a few, it’s almost as if you’re on a journey through decades of sounds and you can’t seem to put your finger on which club, era or even year you’re in.
Kicking the album off with a bang, Orca sits somewhere between the synths of a John Digweed trance classic track and the drums of a 1990s progressive house cut from LFO. Aggressive hi hats complement the the ping-ponging lead, only to be met with a thunderous bassline and rides. Layers upon layers are what this duo are all about when it comes to creating tracks, and it’s no surprise to see this happening on the first track.
Already one of the greats, Glue is by far the best track on the album. As a huge fan of the fellow Irishmen, it’s times like this we get them nostalgic feelings of the Belfast boys’ early days. 90s breakbeat met by soothing pads just brought us straight back to 2014, when Will Saul debuted a track from the guys on his DJ-KICKS! compilation titled ‘Nova’. With Glue, we can clearly see the two have bulked up, not in the gym but in their musical knowledge! When Silkie Carlo’s vocals come in around the 2.12 mark, it sends you into ecstasy.
Following up a classic like Glue is always going to be a tough feat, but Kites acts as a nice link between it and the rest of album. This fast-paced, slightly electro beat somehow manages to tie up all it’s unusual elements together in what is 6.27 of brilliance. More pads make their way onto this one in what’s a unique theme throughout the 12 tracks.
Can you hear that? It’s the sound of every DJ starting their mixes with this ambient number that goes by the name of Vespa. Irish voices, warping, echoing and surrounding your head while a melody sweeps across in an ery fashion. We can imagine Aphex Twin or Burial would be fond of this.
Tracks like Ayaya are what make albums important. We can be almost sure that this will be rarely heard in a club setting, if ever, but its ambience acts as a breath of fresh air in what seems to be the breathing point on the album before we dive head first into the rest. When the lead synth comes in at 1.27, you can’t help but feel the hairs on your neck stand up, only to be rubbed down by an elegant pad.
A noticeable feature throughout this album is that most tracks range from 4-5 minutes long, except for Spring, which is the longest track on the album. That’s not to say it’s any different to the rest, in fact, this is the ‘hidden gem’ of the LP. The layered basslines, stabbing hats and fluffy fx/chimes give it the characteristics of a club banger, but what makes this all come together is the vocal. Taken from the soundtrack of ‘Pakeezah’, ‘Chalte Chalte Yunhi Koi’ is a melodic Indian piece of music, which is what’s sampled in this cut. Not only is this a genius piece of sampling but thus shows how the duo are miles above plenty electronic artists when it comes to knowledge of music.
The second ambient piece to feature on the album, Drift gives you the feeling of travelling amongst the stars, in an almost Interstellar fashion. The arpeggiated lead grasps you from the get-go and catches your attention, only to be met by an insouciant pad and choir-like vocals from Amy Spencer.
The pair prepare to take us down a pulsating rabbit hole after another ambient track by compiling the crescendo that is Opal. This lays down the perfect marker, in a Caribou-like style before we jump the final hurdle to the album’s climactic peak.
Much like Spring, Rain is another track that definitely could’ve been featured as one of the album’s singles prior to its release. From the get go the strings let us know that we’re in for something special. However, we aren’t treated to a vintage BICEP display, we only get a glimpse of what we’ve come to expect from the duo and are now treated to what is a magnificent melange of vocals and synths, along with pumping kicks. For anyone wondering where they got their sample from, it’s ‘Husn Hazir Hai’, taken from the soundtrack of ‘Laila Majnu’.
We’re entering the sprint at this stage and while Ayr lacks a kick to really get the blood pumping, there’s something ominous about the keys that let us know we’re in for a big finale.
Queue the big finale… Just before the album dropped we were presented with Vale, the third single to be released from the LP. Somewhat different to the previous two releases, it received mixed feedback, but what did people expect? A 12 track album of 90s house music. It was never going to happen. Within the first 20 seconds when you hear that bassline, it’s hard not to fall in love, but when the vocals of Rosie Lowe enter the fray, it instantly nestles a special place in your heart. In typical Bicep fashion, throw in some synths and chopped hats, and voila.
For a lot of people in Ireland and the UK, Aura will always be remembered as the ‘Unreleased Bicep’ track that stormed music groups and forums when it was first heard a couple of months ago. Delighted was greeted by heartbreak when they finally put it out to be the first track from their debut album, because we finally had the masterpiece in our hands, but we no longer had that ‘Unreleased Bicep’. Almost taking us back to the golden days of rave, there are so many reasons this was to be the go-to track of the album. My favourite being it’s euphoric pads, and surprising not the lead synth. BICEP rarely dissappooint and this is the perfect track to conclude their first dig at an album. Flawless.
While we are definitely full of praise for the BICEP boys and all this album stands for, arguments commenting on the slightly repetitive structure of some tracks are somewhat true. At points we can see that a track is going to mutate from the roots we’re given at the start into an orchestral masterpiece and while of course the quality is most definitely there, if there was a point to criticise that’d probably be the main one.
From their prior releases and instant classics that have been in existence long before the 12-track offering, we’ve known for a long time that BICEP’s most prominent characteristic is their penchance for unpredictable variety between each track. ‘BICEP’ was very much a statement album from the duo, but looking at the bigger picture it definitely only scratches the surface when it comes to what the pair are capable of.
The real significance lies in what the pair have achieved since the project was announced. For a long time, albums have been ignored across electronic music, with most settling for EPs and singles in order to keep a good balance between playing and producing. While again this is an understandable approach, BICEP have most definitely gained from the hype surrounding the entire rollout of their album. Other notable artists operating in the same lane as BICEP can see that quality content such as an album is being rewarded by the community, as long as both the music and rollout is expertly shaped. BICEP’s album was a resounding success for the Northern Irish duo, but also for the long term prosperity of dance music itself.
Words by Jordan Kinlan & Coílí Collins