- Sometime last year, Bicep started playing a track that got fans excited. Before it had a name or a release date, the song was simply known as "Unreleased Bicep," with numerous video snippets that had thousands of views. It turned out to be "Aura," the first single and closing track from the Northern Irish duo's self-titled debut album. Even now, "Aura" sounds massive: theatrical bassline, sweeping synth strings and an over-the-top melody designed for sunrise DJ sets. The whole thing verges on tackiness, with an indulgent sound palette suited more to progressive house than contemporary UK dance music. But it was precisely these qualities that made the track so good. The rest of Bicep is loaded with gems that shine just as bright. It's a rich and varied LP that wrings the best out of '90s prog house, trance and garage, perfecting the effortless genre fusion that Bicep have been working at for years.
Few producers have mined prog house and trance as unabashedly as Bicep do on the album's opening run. "Orca"'s phased chord progression evokes a classic Global Underground mix CD. The '90s breakbeat of "Glue" is another highlight, with killer slo-mo breaks, a melancholy melody and distant wails. Bicep sometimes resemble sing-songy early '00s prog producers like Petter and The MFA, as on the anxious downtempo of "Ayr" or the lilting "Kites." "Rain" brings to mind the world music tropes of acts like Banco De Gaia, whose exotic anthem "Last Train To Lhasa" seems like a direct inspiration for Bicep's lush landscape.
In other places, Bicep take cues from contemporary artists. They borrow Burial's deflated melodies on "Vespa." The chunky garage and ornate melodies of "Opal," another LP standout, recall the work of artists like Four Tet and Daphni, who work in a happy medium between home-listening electronica and the dance floor. "Vale," near the end of the LP, is a welcome curveball, with a wistful vocal and decadent synths kept in check behind a springy rhythm. It's another example of the duo using mixing and filtering to create tension.
Bicep's production values are impeccable. The breaks are cut up with a precision touch, while the ultra-glossy melodies, even at their most melodramatic, are affecting and hummable. This is modern dance music that homes in on the melodic pleasures of progressive house and trance while avoiding the excess of those genres. Crucially, one thing that Bicep don't copy over from their inspirations is lengthy runtimes—most of the tunes on Bicep are between four and five minutes long.
All of these factors make Bicep the kind of robust, well-rounded debut album you'd expect from a duo who have always made rock solid tunes. Bicep's tracks often rummage through dance music's collective memory—they broke out with a classic house pastiche, "Vision Of Love," after all. But they outdo themselves on Bicep, taking unfashionable sounds and making them feel contemporary, relevant and, most of all, exciting. Bicep have never been afraid to go for broke, and their debut album is all the better for it.