Review Summary: Selected Bicep Works Vol.1
Bicep have developed quite a following in the UK. Likely owing to the quality of their live set – an onslaught of house and techno beats that devastate any venue bearing witness. Or perhaps it’s because they physically paste their emblem around the festivals and clubs they play, allowing chemically impaired ravers to innately soak up who’s performing; rather than trying to recall next day the DJ’s that impressed out of a blurry mash of setlists and faces. For whatever reason, Bicep’s recent bout of shows have done them a lot of favours. Now with their self-titled debut album, the Dublin duo seek to woo dance music maniacs in the comfort of their own dwellings as well as the dancefloor. They could have easily whacked out a collection of solid house beats, such as their past efforts, to little complaint – but they haven’t. Instead, Bicep have pushed the boundaries of themselves and the music they love, delivering a stunning and innovative electronic soundscape with Bicep
Immediately with the opening dull chimes of intro track, “Orca”, it’s apparent that an Aphex Twin influence is present on Bicep
. The seeping textures, drawn out basses, and glitchy melodies that form the lifeblood of each track repeatedly invoke this semblance. On “Opal”, the pinpoint manipulation of the synths imagine an attention to detail akin to an early Richard D. James hunched and sweating over his archaic electronics. Still, Bicep prove to be far from a tribute act, carving out their own brand of deep ambience and intricate melody.
The melodies on Bicep
– often huge multi-layered constructions – render a unique energy onto the tracks that no beat alone can provide. The lead synth on “Kites” is fast-paced and rich in tone, allowing the track to soar as high as its name suggests. The flawless “Aura” is perhaps the best lesson in electronic melody however – anchored around a perfectly pitched lead synth that repeatedly builds up and crashes out like a glittering game of snake. Bicep have always shown they can string together effective melodies, but never have they shown such experimentation and complexity like they do on this record.
The melodious sheen that dominates Bicep can grow tiresome. Luckily the Dublin twosome make inroads into other electronic territories. On “Vale”, they swap out the gilded synths for buzzsaw blasts of static. The finished product comes with an unfiltered vocal lead, providing a much needed organic, almost electro-rock, repose from the techno bombast. With more minimal “Ayaya”, Bicep bring their ambient tendencies to the forefront. Here, the drops often revert to a lone bass swath, so satisfying in subtlety that it instils an exhilaration equalling the albums more electric moments.
With previous studio work, and at their live shows, Bicep often rely on a punchy trademark techno kick beat to conjure the energy. However, on Bicep
the duo have ventured out with the opposite. The beats lack that impact, but in return, they complement the smoother sound of the album nicely. Rarely do they conform to the 1-2-1-2 house patterning either. Such as with “Glue” – a track I’d describe as “space-age garage” – where the percussion has an off-beat echo to it, ensuring the poignancy of the tribal vocals and angelic textures is felt.
Bicep isn’t as toned as the duo would like however. Percussion-less “Drift” fails to generate the suspense it sets out to accomplish, and “Spring” seems misjudged – a jarring mix of sounds failing to gel that drags on for almost 7 minutes. Aside from these minor blemishes, Bicep have delivered a project worthy of the Ninja Tune name – a stellar slab of electronica that is sure to tantalise brain lobes in addition to limbs. I encourage all to see Bicep live as they put on a phenomenal show (if i remember correctly). And with an atmosphere to match, the inclusion of these new tracks will sure transform their mixes into something magical.