Review Summary: Its own kind of generic
It’s been nearly 4 years since ‘Glue’, and subsequently Bicep, had taken the country by storm. Featuring in every BBC drama club scene, atmospheric night drives to outdoor pubs and shopping centres, it was instantly recognisable, iconic and a modern classic. A soothing, atmospheric piece, growing in richness and was truly mesmerising, all whilst built on a couple of very simple motifs. However, with the release of follow up effort, Isles
, it seems apparent the world may have to accept an unfortunate truth: Bicep may very well be generic.
Reinventing the wheel was never Bicep’s game, instead opting to do the basics and do them very
well. Such is exemplified in the two standout tracks, ‘Atlas’ and ‘Apricots’: Mid-tempo breakbeat tracks with a thick bass drum starts, followed by the main synth or sample motif. This forms the foundation from where wailing background synths and lush ambiance are introduced before these become more prominent, swell with richness and texture. Soon enough, these tracks are dripping in gorgeous, expansive atmosphere, feeling almost humanly expressive in how the synths rise in tension, sharpness and depth. At their best, Bicep can create a truly luxurious and nostalgic mood, emphasised by a hypnotic beat for a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Therefore, the regretful nature of Bicep is this same description applies equally for almost all tracks here, although with less successful results. A winning formula is often only a winning formula in very particular circumstances and no truer is it than on Isles
. What made the aforementioned tracks excel make many other feel directionless, meandering in getting louder and denser but without delivering a substantial punch. ‘Fir’ and ‘Rever’ are prime examples, offering some promise but squandering its potential by attempting the same synth swells that instead rob them from developing a much greater climax. ‘Cazenove’ and ‘Hawk’ succeed better at being decent but suffer from being especially forgettable.
It should then come as no surprise that this album’s flow generally suffers as a result of dogmatically ensuring every track follow the same formula. Isles'
50 minute runtime offers little journey, equally as little thought in track transitions and a lacklustre closer. The sum of the album’s parts is entirely lost here, no matter how good most of the tracks are. This then begs to question the inclusion of ‘Lido’, a 3 minute beatless interlude which seemingly serves no purpose other than to be dull filler. Its presence does more to detract from the album and an unfortunate reminder of the overall poor flow.
In 2017, Bicep came out guns blazing with a new, fresh and modern refined sound that would come to symbolise British electronic music in the late 2010s. Nevertheless, what was once refreshing to hear now sounds alarmingly common and generic. That's not to say this doesn’t stand out among its peers. At its finest, it is still an encapsulating, wistful and tranquilising experience. However, relying solely on a simple tried formula, Isles
became disjointed with too many tracks not developing beyond their initial ideas. When seemingly jocular YouTube videos titled ‘How to Make Music Like Bicep’ genuinely make tracks that could substitute some of the tracklist, something was clearly lost in the creative process. With such excitement and promise for Bicep to flex its newfound zeitgeist in British electronic music, it's a shame that Isles
instead falls prey to its own success.