Returning to Will Saul’s Aus Music label, on which they released last year’s stellar ‘You/Don’t’, the ‘Stash EP’ sees Belfast duo Bicep showing their versatility across four tracks. Better known to their mum’s as Andy Ferguson and Matt McBriar, the pair enjoyed a meteoric rise to prominence in 2012, taking their inimitable combination of affectionately constructed 90’s house revivalism and Gaelic charm beyond the confines of their blog, FeelMyBicep, and into the wider world via a hat-trick of acclaimed original releases, a slew of remixes and a relentlessly globe-trotting touring schedule.
Hitherto, the likes of ‘Vision of Love’ and ‘$tripper’ have delicately trod the line between innovation and pastiche, somehow managing to evoke the best American House Music of the 90’s whilst simultaneously sounding vital. Perhaps with one eye on avoiding a potential sophomore slump, Bicep keep their cards a little closer to their chest here, eschewing any reference points as obvious as the likes of ‘Vision of Love’s’ rising pianos and MK/MAW esque sampled vocal hook, with the end product sounding more their own than ever before.
On the EP’s eponymous and opening track, ‘Stash’, Bicep once again demonstrate their nack for a sturdy rhythm section, with their signature kick solidly underpinning proceedings. A funky, meandering b-line soon arrives, lending the track an incessant groove, but what really distinguishes ‘Stash’ is its shimmering, melodic synth part. Playfully recalling the lead line of Omar-S’ lauded 2011 club hit , ‘Here’s Your Trance, Now Dance!!’, it elevates the track’s propulsive forward motion into heady peak time territory.
‘Courtside Drama’ finds the duo piling on the atmosphere through the age old trick of build and release. Deep pads, evocative of Selected Ambient Works-era Aphex Twin wash over a cheap reverb drenched pre-set snare and kick and brooding sub as the pair efficiently get the most out of their hardware. Using another synth part for the hook again, this is danceable melodrama.
‘Rise’ positions a heavy blanket of dusty hi hats skit atop a galloping kick drum and distorted synth stabs, as Bicep allow the tension to grow for the best part of 2 and a half minutes. Once they finally let the lead line out, they have the EP’s crowning moment, its rough edged Balearic stomp given a triumphant release before being swallowed by a growing swell of pads.
Closing cut ‘The Game’ uses sombre textures draped over carefully built analog percussion and an almost droning sub, with Bicep eking yet another melancholy riff out of their synth to garnish it all. The distant siren and the muffled vocal sample of The Wire’s antihero, Omar act as the duo’s homage to the HBO series, although they are rather superfluous touches to what is already a very effective roller.
Those expecting a re-hash of the instant thrills of FMB001 will be disappointed, rather this is a progression from an outfit establishing themselves as a consistent force. Continuing to display an admirable emphasis on old school production values, the ‘Stash EP’ shows Bicep developing their take on classic house music beyond the sum of its influences into something to be appreciated on its own terms.