Since their first release, ‘Darwin’, in 2010 and its layering of infectious melody over buzzing synths and danceable rhythm, duo Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson have amassed a reverential following. It was their releases on Will Saul’s Aus label – 2013’s ‘Stash’, 2014’s ‘Circles’, and 2015’s ‘Just’ EPs – that catapulted them to the forefront of dancefloor consciousness. The eponymous title track of the ‘Just’ EP became Mixmag’s Track of the Year, owing to its minimal drum programming, top-line synth melodies, and emotive build without capitulating to blatant crescendo.
Bicep have long since been a fixture of the festival circuit, as well as curating residencies at the Warehouse Project in Manchester and London’s XOYO. Their DJ sets consistently deliver high energy euphoria, littered with their club-focused productions, and rare cuts explored and explained on their ever-popular Feel My Bicep blog and mixtape series. Yet, with all the club focus, McBriar and Ferguson found themselves wanting to explore the possibilities of the album format, and the experimental freedom and wider audience attendance with that choice. This summer, therefore, sees the release of their debut LP, ‘Bicep’.
Written using a mix of intuitive jamming and later over-dubbing with a range of hardware and electronics, ‘Bicep’ was created as a fluid effort of revision and refinement. From a first listen it is immediately apparent that Bicep have honed their studio craft. The drum production is punchy and crisp, and the melodies are bright and carefully arranged to avoid muddying composition. Opener ‘Orca’ brings to mind a half-time trance euphoria through its vivid synth reverb, and yet, an ominous bassline kicks in halfway through, along with a breakbeat that sits back in the mix, leaving the track straddled between private listening and the dancefloor. Following number ‘Glue’ continues in a similar vein, combining slowed jungle breaks with a Burial-style melody, reminiscent of a half-empty 5am club, or the night bus home.
The Burial influence is again felt on the amorphous choral backing and vocal sample of interlude ‘Vespa’, yet with succeeding track ‘Ayaya’, the listener is placed in ‘80s electro territory, replete with twinkling phrases and snare snaps. The twists and turns continue throughout with ‘Spring’ keeping up the melodic breakbeat theme, while ‘Opal’ takes on the rumbling two-step of UKG, and ‘Rain’ comes through with a slightly jarring Indian vocal sample over a bumping house rhythm.
While synth melody is prioritised throughout, creating a sense of consistency to the record, the back-and-forth between vocal-led house in numbers like ‘Vale’, the Burial influences, and the gradual breakbeats expose the production methods of ‘Bicep’ all too readily. The intuitive, steady flow of writing in the studio means that the record can lack form. And yet, despite some generic meandering, none of the productions come across as derivative. Lead singles ‘Glue’ and the driving bassline synth of ‘Aura’ are standout tracks, ones that will surely be on heavy dancefloor rotation, and the amalgamation of influences and sounds in ‘Bicep’ merely attests to the duo’s love for their music and passion for unearthing subgenres, bringing them always to new ears.
Words: Ammar Kalia
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