When coming up with a calendar for most anticipated electronic albums for 2021, the list had to start with Bicep’s Isles. Three and a half years after their era-defining debut, the former bloggers and now rave (as a concept these days) mainstays are back with a new album that draws on their connection to growing up in Belfast.
Drawing from a wider breadth of music this time around, the final album was built from a pool of over 150 demos, working with featured vocalists for the first time alongside samples. Their travels over the past few years as global electronic stars have taken them intimately beyond traditional European sounds. This has led them to Hindi music, Bulgarian choirs, Turkish pop and more that influenced or made its way into Isles. Thematically Isles is about the coming and going of living on an island, “wanting to leave, wanting to return,” as the duo explains and the touring life of a DJ, discovering different musical traditions reflects that.
In the lead up to the album release we have had four singles that have all been outstanding. Now we can see how they fit into this 10-track album.
The LP opens with the euphoric energy one expects from Bicep with “Atlas” that soars with the same rave-ready energy that would be felt at their live shows. As possibly the track of 2020, “Apricots” takes us even higher, sampling traditional Malawian singers into a rhythmic pattern that matches the percussion and fluttering synths, building into unstoppable rush of dopamine.
“Saku” switches to UK garage two-stepping rhythms and Clara La San’s sweet vocals with cosmic synth work spinning around the listener. The album peaks right in the middle like a proper DJ set with “X” that is more powerful than the rest. It takes everything you know from Bicep and turns it up with some Project X-like energy that would smash in a warehouse right now.
We get a slight respite with “Rever” that locks you into a dream. “Sundial” has a very interesting story to it. The song grew from a faulty Jupiter 6 arp recording. The trigger wasn’t working properly and the arp skipped notes randomly. However, in a happy accident, they liked the sounds it was making and decided to keep it. “Sundial” works around a sample from “Jab Andhera Hota Hai,” taken from the 1973 Bollywood film Raja Rani, recorded by Asha Bhosle & Bhupinder Singh, and written by Anand Bakshi and R. D. Burman.
Isles closes out with some proper, euphoric 90's influence dance music on “Fir” and Hawk.” This album just makes you want to rave again so bad. Bicep don’t run into the proverbial sophomore slump with this record. They manage to incorporate different world influences and samples that keep it sounding fresh, while still remaining true to the euphoric rave sound that has become quintessentially part of who they are. We can’t dance with them now, but when we do, these tunes will blast the roof off of any spot.
Stream the full album below and get your copy here.