While it's just the 22nd of January and it may sound weird, BICEP's Isles is one of the most anticipated albums for 2021. I mean, fair enough - we did start the journey all the way back in March last year when the duo dropped the first single, but hey - timelines, you know. Fast-forward 10 months and their brand new album Isles is out via one of my favorite labels Ninja Tune.
But what did actually happen in 2020, besides COVID. Matt and Andy started with "Atlas" (which samples both a recording of traditional Malawian singers and a Bulgarian choir (yes, motherland!), then took a pause during summer and came back with "Apricots" in October. Fun fat - the track was named Billboard’s #1 dance track of 2020, hit #1 on the UK’s Shazam chart, was named ‘Hottest Record’ by BBC Radio 1’s Annie Mac. Let this sink in. Then they wrapped the year with "Saku" and gave us the last Isles taste in the form of "Sundial" last week. To this day, the guys have done more than 22M Spotify streams on these 4 singles, so imagine what a build-up that is towards the full record.
I'll cut to the chase now. The 10 tracks album is now available in all major streaming platforms and the 6 new additions are pure happiness. "Cezanove", "Lido", "X", "Rever", "Fir" and "Hawk" further build the eclectic picture that Isles is. I was happy to see "Saku" wasn't the only Clara La San feature as I absolutely loved the performance, but the duo brings two other reinforcements - New York-based cellist and composer Julia Kent on "Rever" and Korean artist machina on "Hawk".
I still find "Saku" my personal pivot point when it comes to Isles. Nothing will replace the feeling of complete helplessness when Clara La San's vocals
I just need to feel what I felt before Can you help me feel what I'm waiting for?
That being said, the whole record feels like the perfect soundtrack to a year where we predominantly spent isolated. Not that is not rave-y. No, not at all. It's the opposite - I can't think of better music to play when dancing late at night in my house reminiscing the pre-COVID Berlin club days. It's both upbeat and mellow, with just the right amount of lonesome - the exact feeling one gets in the dimmed rooms in the clubs of the German capital.
Drenched with 90s dance music scent, Isles' progression is oddly beautiful. I guess that should come of as no surprise as the guys have been long-time fans of Aphex Twin, Underworld, and Leftfield. The drop between "Saku" and "Lido" is fascinating and then follow-up "X" is album's absolute curve-ball. I think is at 2:32 of that track where I first experienced goosebumps while listening to this. It's crazy to think that The Northern Irish duo started out as guys blogging about music and ended up creating something which I think will leave a mark in 2021's music heritage. Clara's vocals are nothing short of staggering. I know I repeat myself, but hey - that's the beauty of writing with no edits.
"Rever" and "Fir" are the most experimental tunes on here and while they are not yet at the top of my list, I see them as an absolute essential piece in the development of the record. Don't quote me on this one, but the vocal sample on "Rever" might be from The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices. Absolutely epic.
I can't wait for my next run where I can completely space out and dive into the sonic universe of Isles. Today is a good day for music.