Bicep iron out and stitch together elements from throughout electronic musical history to create one of the most distinctive and exciting dance albums of the year.
Who do you trust to introduce you to new music? Maybe a friend, an older sibling or another family member. Perhaps you look to your favourite band or artist to act as your musical guide. Since 2008, many dance music fans have counted on the curatorship of Belfast-born duo Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson, a.k.a, Bicep.
Since starting their blog, FeelMyBicep.com, the duo have become renowned for their passion and profound understanding of electronic music as they have stewarded others, distilling the finest parts of dance music, both through their blog, and genre-defying, electric DJ sets. With this intense passion for electronic music coursing through their veins, it’s little surprise that they were capable of creating something extraordinary themselves. That came in 2015 with the genuinely stunning, club conquering “Just” track from the album of the same name. Since then the pair has continued to dig crates, polish forgotten gems, and mould and shape their love for electronic music into their own unique artistic vision.
Whether it be jungle, house, or italo-disco the whole ethos of the duo is to take everything they have learnt, filter it and see what rises to the top. That eclectic attitude has transferred admirably to this album. An album that sees the pair take all of that knowledge, understanding and judgement to iron out and stitch together elements from throughout electronic musical history.
Opener “Orca” manages the admirable feat of sounding fresh and wholly original but with enough tips of the hats that it sounds reassuringly familiar. The circling, swooping keyboards and the pop of percussion and hi-hat are the techno-house blueprint that allows the duo to build layers of synths and sampled, whispered vocals, giving it a classic old-skool feel. The stunning, “Glue”, is another song underpinned by a classic house beat with an almost otherworldly spinning, looping hook, mesmerizing in its deceptively simplistic genius. “Ayaya” is a classic slice of mid-tempo techno with echoing, plink plonk keys and strangulated sharp loops and noises that bounce and tumble. Once again, it evokes memories of dance music’s past glories but sounds exhilaratingly fresh - like finding a lost seven-inch in a forgotten, dusty crate.
The winding, knotty tech house of “Spring” sees the duo knit together intricate, clattering rhythms that gently build in tempo. It’s distinctive, swaggering groove and manic intensity is offset immediately by the more gentle ambience of "Drift". Here, cascading washes of synths cling around a single, clipped note. It’s this ability to incorporate so many different electronic elements that keeps everything varied and exciting. For example, “Opal” expands their sound further to incorporate elements of dub into the mix. By doing so, they allow the track to casually draw you in before subtlety gathering pace with parts allowed to shrink away before being shocked back to life.
“Rain” mines '90s trance and comes up with more electronic gold. Morse code keys and trancey Indian voice sample are infused with oscillating, modular synths that raise the song up before gently setting back down. This continues with “Ayr” as they create an ambient, almost euphoric mood with a subtle edge as calming, sweeping chords do battle with skittering, oscillating synths before eventually losing out to clean piano chords. It’s a gorgeous track that sets up the alluring, elegance of “Vale” with its springy, distorted keys and steely percussion acting as the the perfect foil for the, as yet uncredited, sumptuous female vocals. If that was the end of the album, then Bicep would have have easily created one of the electronic albums of the year. However, they have one more rabbit to pull from the hat in the form of “Aura”.
Closer “Aura” is the track to haul you back on your feet. A perfect set closer for when a DJ needs to wring that last drop of energy from the crowd. The thud and groove of the beat serve as an invitation to join them for one more round. Every layer is allowed to swell and build, becoming the perfect storm of barely contained tech house. It’s a stunning conclusion to the album that will leave every single listener panting for breath.
Bicep have taken all of their influences and crafted them into a delightfully homogeneous whole. This is a loose, liberated record as the pair tease with layers of intricately woven synths, keyboards that demonstrate a suitably delicate and deft touch. A remarkable and distinctive album from artists who live and breathe dance music. This is what any fan of their carefully curated blog and expertly considered DJ sets would want.