Unpopular advent 2021 – day 4

Bicep – ‘Apricots’ from Isles

A few days ago I suggested that if there is any kind of recurring theme in this 2021 advent series then it may be something to do with tastes changing and horizons expanding. This may be true, or it may be simply that I have more time to invest in following threads which have been left untouched on the cutting room floor for too many years. The discovery of the tremendous Bicep falls into such a category, for there was certainly a point in my past when the thought of missing out on a new release on the Ninja Tune label was almost unthinkable. All those DJ Food records. The Herbaliser. Clusterfunk. Amon Tubin. Roots Manuva. Coldcut, of course. Every one a winner.

So the first I heard of Bicep was ‘Glue’, from 2017’s eponymous debut. Beamed in on a social media post. A lucky click and a jaw-drop. Would it have struck me as forcibly had I hear it four years ago? I like to think it would, for it’s stop-start Burial-esque drum’n’bass is exquisite in its twilit suburban twitchiness. There were days during 2021 when it was all but stuck on repeat here, borrowing deeply into my sub-conscious with its refrains and vocal spectres drifting into my mind riding the road out of Branscombe, sea mist hanging softly on the branches of the Salcombe Thorn. There were weeks too where I carved out images of cassette tapes and hagstones accompanied solely by the sounds of ‘Bicep’ and ‘Isles’, every one of whose one word titled tunes added a grain of undercut here, a glitch of cross-hatch there. Inks mixed to mauve hues of morning.

‘Isles’ is, like that Pye Corner Audio album, a record that sends me back to reveries of those times when Warp’s ‘electronic music for listening’ collections delighted my ears and the sounds of drum’n’bass were everywhere. If those illusory inner-city landscapes faded to memory for me on our drift from the centre to a more rural seclusion then it is poignant perhaps that the sounds of Bicep are as much tinted by natural form as by the harshness of the urban. More so, indeed, as pieces like ‘Lido’, ‘Fir’, ‘Hawk’ and ‘Sundial’ seem to reverberate with a hum and a buzz that is as much that of insects on the meadowsweet as traffic on the Autobahn. ‘Rever’ in particular feels undercut by a kind of sonic hugenkultur that is deeply organic yet technologically wired. A collaboration with cellist and composer Julia Kent, at times it recalls ‘Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares’ if they were beamed in on a Zoom call from the set of ‘Ex Machina’. I’m so glad of the collaboration because otherwise I may have never discovered Kent, occupying as she does the edges of one of those tangential realms of interest. In turn it has led me to discovering her 2021 solo set ‘Stories From The Sea‘ and the gorgeous ‘Branches‘ track made with Library Tapes, whose own piano-driven pieces have in turn soundtracked afternoon drawing meditations and daydreams. Also well worth investigating is ‘The Gyres’, a short collection of pieces that Kent has made for the on-going ‘Outlaw Ocean Music Project‘ with Ian Urbina. Tangents to leap off on. Connections to follow. An ideal for living, or at least a great name for a website. Ha ha.

Back to Bicep though, and the corrupted groove of ‘Apricots’ with it’s clipped vocal as rhythmic instrument: Hypnotic, hallucinatory, the sound of Mandal Hypernautics dipped in Manuka honey. Alliterative blips and beats that feel as though they are thumping the inner ear of an oak. Like sci-fi wrapped in pagan robes, Bicep have thrilled me with ghosts of my past transposed to the present via the altered state of a possible future: Now and then forever.

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