Time to grapple with that bicep. If it was good enough for Purple Aki, it’s good enough for you. Custodial sentence and rubbish puns notwithstanding, this debut album from the Belfast-born duo, Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson, is a pretty arresting record if one that, perhaps, doesn’t create anything hugely new. Instead, it distils a whole load of dance music influences that have clearly taken the fancy of the creators. Very apt considering the hugely successful Feel My Bicep blog by the twosome.
Whether by accident, instrument or design, Bicep harks back to a time when the inspiration for the duo’s name and marauding muscle-admirer, Akinwale Arobieke, was becoming, shall we say, most active. The nods across the album to ’90s progressive house of the Orbital-type flavour are explicit but, for a somewhat maligned genre, actually quite welcome. Quite welcome. Ethereal sweeps abound with rough and powerful percussion shoving things along. Nostalgia may not be what it used to but it’s a reminder that that most British of mutations was a hoot. Some electro beats and a slight rave atmosphere toughen things up even more at points and several tracks would fit in fine enough into a techno set.
Fine enough is perhaps not what music-makers want to hear, however. It is the inescapable case here though. Tracks like ‘Glue‘ are just that. Warm, little bit ambient and epic. Decent beats and that’s it. That really is the case too often across the 12 tracks. The exception to this would be the closer, ‘Aura‘, which has been floating around unreleased for a while. Sounding a little like an early track by Slam – yet another ’90s reference – it’s a far more powerful affair with guts and an intimidating growl; the clear highlight. Still a crowd-pleaser with jaunty plinks and plonks and that ever-present epic vibe but it has muscle. Aki would be proud.
‘Ayr‘ is another standout. Downtempo but actually has a whole lot more power than some others here. A more accessible Boards Of Canada perhaps. Even as one of the best tracks on the album though, one can’t help but think that being a less accessible Boards Of Canada would be more fulfilling for both creators and listeners.
If all this sounds a little half-hearted, in a sense, it is. Not that the album isn’t pleasurable, but the production and construction is so good you suspect the twosome really could have pushed things further. They sure as hell know how to make a record but Bicep as a whole is quite safe. If anything, the tracks have been overworked and overproduced. A collection of tunes that would keep a night rattling along but, you suspect, will not linger in the memory as long as they could or should.
In some ways, that was what did for prog-house as a genre. At the arse-end of proceedings in the ’90s, the avalanche of perfectly serviceable but somewhat unremarkable tracks was overwhelming. Whilst Bicep does have other influences as noted, it doesn’t do complete justice to the duo. It’s good, it could be considerably better. This is too often festival dance music, with all that entails.