Review: Isles – Bicep

While the instrumental textures of “Isles” make for a more ambient approach from the Northern Ireland house duo, a lack of strong track progression and tiresome atmosphere is the real nail in the coffin for what could have been a stellar sophomore LP.

By Gavin Majeski


Dropping four singles in preparation for their second studio record under Ninja Tune, duo Andrew Ferguson and Matthew McBriar seemed to be setting themselves up for a successful follow-up to their debut self-titled record that was released in 2017.

The first of these singles, and inarguably one of the best tracks on the record, “Atlas,” features atmospheric droning, light vocal samples, glitchy, arrhythmic synth chirps, crisp snare hits and a punchy bass drum layered throughout the duration of the track.

“Apricots” was the second single to be released in 2020, and utilizes stellar vocal sampling as cryptic, chopped vocals make for a wonderful primary texture on top of stretched and warbly synth drones.

The last two singles “Saku” and “Sundial,” while not as stand-out from an instrumental perspective as the aforementioned tracks, still manage to hold their own with a consistent and pulsating melody. “Saku” on one hand transforms into an 80s synthwave passage by the halfway point in the track, while “Sundial” displays some decent high-hat work along with a consistent thumping bass kick.

As “Sundial” was the last track to be released in preparation for “Isles,” it is of course only ironic that it foreshadows the record’s two biggest grievances: trite atmosphere and mundane track progression.

Tracks such as “Lido,” “Rever,” and “Fir” are all brain-dead when it comes to repetition, with little to know diversity in texture that hasn’t already been established ten seconds into the track.

Then there’s the stretched and warped, ambient synth layers littered on every track. While these light textures add to the overall undertone of the record, creating a sense of wonder, this element dries up faster than the time it takes to establish itself in the listener’s head.

The one nonconforming track is the closer, “Hawk.” The song features one of, if not the only proper crescendo heard on the record, as 80s style synths intertwine with vocal samples from artist Machìna, culminating in a glitch filled drop just before the two-and-a-half-minute mark.

Even if “Isles” isn’t as adventurous as Bicep’s debut 2017 record, it does have a certain “vibe” to it. A “vibe” which is unable to decide whether or not it wants to make listeners dance or put them to sleep.

Favorite Tracks: Atlas, Cazenove, Apricots, Saku, X, Hawk