2021 • ELECTRONIC • NINJA TUNE
The Irish electronic music duo’s second album is a decent quarantine response, but it’s not interesting enough to keep you afloat for a long time.
Electronic music has changed dramatically over the past decade. While the first steps of electronic albums in the early 2010s generally tended to try to convey the image of bright lights bouncing randomly in a dark environment in computerized sounds, their successors began to break down the barriers and explore the full potential of the genre. In this avant-garde that has emerged in the last few years, we can mention names like Sufjan Stevens, who transformed EDM into an adornment for folk and rock, or FKA twigs that with her excellent MAGDALENE created an electronic-pop atmosphere never seen before. However, 2020 was the turning point of electronic music as, in decades, people could not take advantage of crowded festivals to feel the songs as they were meant to be felt. Thus, each of the artists had to find their way to continue producing, but this time, for the domestic environment. The response of the Irish musical group Bicep to this situation was decent, but nothing impressive.
Bicep’s music has always been focused on experiences. In March 2020, in a statement, during the process of creation of “Atlas,” they said they could never imagine the circumstances under which the track would be released when they were doing it. In fact, it was a big challenge for them since their focus was to play their computer beats for a large public outdoors and not for lonely minds inside their homes. The album opener, “Atlas,” for example, was produced shortly after the duo’s last tour and captured all the energy of the stages. In a way, they were able to transfer these sensations and transform the empty rooms into an imaginative atmospheric environment where you can see yourself, in some moments, floating regardless of gravity. However, despite all the qualities, their second album, Isles, sounds too monotone to keep you afloat for a long time.
Isles‘ best songs are the ones that the duo really managed to transfer their feelings from the stage to the audience’s home. The opener, for example, is the strongest point of the album where their message reaches its clearest peak. The track mixes synthetic spiritual vocals with modern and loud noises. In a way, it is almost as if they have transformed the experience of making the concerts into something religious and mythological — and here they can pass on that feeling. Another striking factor of Isles is when they make their sound a little more daring, presenting an experimental sound that goes beyond just the generic. In “X,” with Clara La San, we see something psychotic with clear, bright beats that seem to resonate from a material that looks like the junction of crystal with metal, and in “Hawk,” with machina, we see a kind of broken beats vaguely reminiscent of Lady Gaga’s “Aura” strings. It is in those moments when they knew how to create a song that provides a good experience for those who are stuck at home.
However, unfortunately, the rest of the songs are not as exciting or memorable as that. While some tracks seem too generic — like “Apricots,” which features vocals from Hugh Tracey’s “Gebede-gebede Ulendo Wasabwera,” but still sounds like something we’ve heard — others seem to be discarded or suspiciously inspired by other projects — as “Saku” that looks like I came straight from Grime’s Miss Anthropocene. Besides, other tracks just look too much like other songs, like “Sundial” which seems to be just a continuation or a version with just a few different elements of “Rever.” It is in these moments that Bicep was unable to understand their situation.
Finally, unfortunately, even the most refined songs on the album end up carrying the same defects as the worst. The most annoying thing about the album is definitely the fact that the songs are really too long. Some of them, for example, reach the border of six minutes. The problem is not even that, but the fact that these six minutes are very poorly used since Bicep seems to just repeat the same samples over and over again and rarely add new flashy elements. At the end of it, the product was long, tiring, and monotone tracks — definitely something we don’t need for our long, monotone days.