by Dom Jones
Ibeyi’s self-titled debut was remarkable. It combined indigenous sounds from Cuba and Africa in a way I hadn’t heard before, while making it modern for the current musical landscape. And though their single “Deathless” for this second album ‘Ash’ was a bit sonically divergent from the first album, I was still excited to listen. “Deathless” stayed close enough to their original sound that I didn’t feel it was being completely abandoned.
One continues to feel this natural progression of their sound on the interlude-esque intro “I Carried This For Years,” the second track, “Away, Away,” and the single “Deathless.” The fourth track on the album, “I Wanna Be Like You” is where the album starts to lose me. The production dips its toe into a more pop sound without fully going their and the foray feels more like an intrusion than an addition. A high pitched synth line throughout is bothersome, instead of endearing, and I’m glad that the song is short. The next song is more chant than anything, with the refrain: “No man is big enough for my arms,” and snippets from this speech by First Lady Michelle Obama. It’s a statement in this tumultuous political climate, and it sounds good, but it ends up being more about the sample than the song.
When I reach “Valé,” the halfway point in the album, I’m feeling underwhelmed, and this song does make an effort to reel my ears
back in. The next song, “Waves,” finally exposes why I’ve felt so dissatisfied so far with this album. The composition just is not there. Repeated lines and chord progressions make every song feel like an interlude, rather than a full song. The album languishes in this interlude zone for the majority of it. “Me Voy” finally takes us out of that realm on the ninth track of the album, and would be perfect, but for the unnecessary auto-tune on their normally ethereal vocals. This continues on what, to me, is their most successful track on the album: “When Will I Learn.” Here, the song feels fully composed, has the indigenous elements that make this group distinct, incorporates more modern production techniques without clashing, and has an awesome hook. The title track, which ends the album, still does not sonically please as much as one might want, but it does drive home the story of their content throughout the album.
This is where I believe the album is most successful, in that it has a through story, from which it does not diverge too much. Ibeyi is giving a critique on society as a whole, speaking to the causes and crises that most affect them and their communities. In this way, they do accomplish a solid offering, if not stellar.
Ultimately, ‘Ash’ is not about being a duplicate of the first album, but about continuing the magic that the first album creates, which I don’t believe is accomplished. There are sparks of brilliance throughout the album, but they often feel incomplete, and I believe, will leave the listener wanting. I wouldn’t say that this album fully succumbed to the sophomore jinx, but I would say that it teeters on the edge of that cliff, and that the third album will determine whether Ibeyi will sonically soar or fall flat.
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IBEYI’S SOPHOMORE ALBUM? SOUND OFF IN THE COMMENTS!