Belfast born electronic duo have returned with their second studio album Isles. With their 2017 self-titled debut, Bicep marked themselves as big hitters in the word of techno, utilising deep cuts and experimental beats to create a sound that was simultaneously meticulously organised yet expansive. Tracks like ‘Glue’ and ‘Opal’ stood out for their shimmering, psychedelic brand of house.
On Isles, a step is made towards a cleaner, more ambient texture of sound. The opening track ‘Atlas’ is the album’s best moment. Equally rapturous and profoundly empty, the fragmented beat cuts across an absorbing palette of airy pads and angular synths. The track grows and grows, but never succeeds in attaining the cathartic climax which its predecessor repeatedly demonstrated. The track ‘Apricots’ is similarly heady, the synths building across an aggressively sampling of the traditional sub-Saharan African music of Hugh Tracey.
Regrettably, the rest of this record continues in a fairly pleasant, inoffensive, but decidedly unremarkable fashion. The tracks tick by one by one, all conforming to a seemingly comfortable template the duo have adopted. The rhythms play out linearly, four by four, over synths and echoey vocals which grow, subside, and steadily grow again. The progressions and composition repeatedly fail to live up to the high expectations set by its brilliant predecessor. Isles is a project which ought to be projected out onto huge summer fields filled with people. Now, sadly, one imagines a vast, empty plane, the music echoing out across it flatly.
My faith in electronic music has always been fragile. Homely, accessible, occasionally even euphoric, it certainly is. But my experience with seeing techno live has given me reason to question how something so supposedly communal is made such a seemingly lonely and personal experience. You look around at the bobbing heads and swinging jaws and wonder whether it is music simply devoid of personality and soul; merely a satisfyingly predictable sonic pattern that provides a soundtrack for people to lose themselves to in the most interior and solipsistic of ways. This is obviously a very generalised view, thinking of the of DJs cum creators such LCD Soundsystem and Kaytranada, even Four Tet, who nowadays really do push electronic music to its true wondrous capacity.
But while Bicep’s debut really was a ground-breaking piece of music, it is albums like Isles that make me think of this brand of techno as nothing more than mere surface enjoyment. Music that brings a warehouse to routine excitement and is then forgotten in an instant.
image: ruairi drayne via: flickr