Belfast-born, London-based duo Bicep (Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson) delivers their hotly anticipated second album, Isles, via Ninja Tune. Two years in the making, Isles expands on the artful energy of their 2018 debut Bicep, while digging deeper into the sounds, experiences and emotions that have influenced their lives and work, from early days in Belfast to their move to London a decade ago. "We have strong mixed emotions, connected to growing up on an island" they say, "wanting to leave, wanting to return." Isles is, in part, a meditation on these contradictions, the struggle between the expansive and the introspective, isolation and euphoria.
The breadth of music they've been exposed to in London during this time informs Isles'massive sonic palette; both cite the joy of discovering Hindi vocals overheard from distant rooftops, snatches of Bulgarian choirs drifting from passing cars, hitting Shazam in a kebab house in the vain hopes of identifying a Turkish pop song. But time away from home has also made the pair more reflective about the move between islands which led them here. For two natives of Belfast, any talk of islands, communities and identities will also have other, more domestic connotations. Before this project, it was an aspect of their lives they'd been reluctant to talk about.
"Atlas," the first track drawn from the record, was released to massive acclaim in March 2020, making both the Radio 1 and Radio 6 playlists, its euphoric energy and bittersweet heft hit all the harder in uncertain times. It is, as Resident Advisor called it, "music that commiserates with you while you try to dance out your anxieties." Lead single "Apricots" has a similar feel, steeped in a shimmering bath of warm synths, its spare percussion and arresting vocals bring the big room chills of 90s rave, while still evoking something lost or forlorn.