Ibeyi made waves with their debut album that mixed up some really smooth grooves with siren like vocals that held their Yoruba roots and a dark tone aloft and ran with it. Their follow-up Ash is far more pointed – a protest album for the modern woman to stand up and claim, but with it sometimes its musical production means a track may not feel as punchy as it could do.
Opening with “I Carried This for Years” we are treated to a Bulgarian styled vocal arrangement that bursts into a fierce beat and great melody, but then as soon as its up and running the track fades out. I feel like the track could easily be double the length, but instead “Away Away” takes the lead with Naomi’s making a meaty Cuban beat, urban background noise of sirens and wind and it lets Lisa show her vocal skills. Her voice is smooth like butter but with a honey coated maturity to her voice. It glistens and shines so it confused me initially that there’s pitch shifting in this song and throughout the album. It does add a little to more urban vibe of this album, but Lisa’s voice is amazing and I’d have probably preferred it without.
Standout track “Deathless” is an absolute riot and shows the duo at their best. The crunchy percussion creates the foundation for a rousing song of defiance as a huge crowd chant “Whatever happens we are deathless”. It tells a story of a real life event of racism that happened to Lisa when she was a teen and didn’t really realise what had taken place. There’s such a power behind the after processing and the lyrics that come from it – and the bass and synth work to crank up the tension. After the tension, the breezy jazz funk pop of “I Wanna Be Like You” is a welcome change of mood and is a weekend chill anthem in waiting. It sits in between Ibeyi’s two biggest political statements. After recounting fear in society, “No Man in the World is Big Enough for These Arms” is a conversation between snippets of Michelle Obama’s speech from New Hampshire in 2016 and Ibeyi crying out back at her in the longing for some kind of leadership and to counted. It’s intelligent, gutting and emotional – even if you aren’t a political person. The who thing has weight and gravitas and shows the duo off perfectly.
“Vale” takes things down to a hushed tone but mixes in a beautiful Yoruba chant and as the percussion is always there throughout, it’s a wonderful interplay between downtempo soul and a voice of the Earth. “Waves” is stripped bare to just electric piano chords and voice. Lisa is crystal clear and leading the track, which is lovely but feels a bit empty in places. In general the synth work is always low in the mix on the album and that doesn’t help it power through here. It bleeds into the epic burner “Transmission/Michaelion” which at nearly seven minutes mixes a jazzy ambient opening but after passage readings and various transformative phases, it pushes into a butterfly moment musically and has a lovely warm finale.
In the second and final happy moment “Me Voy” see’s Ibeyi turn to Spanish for a chilled out anti anthem. You’ll groove, your sing along with your arms in motion and here vocoders are definitely allowed. Often in the album, the percussion is not always allowed to go full force for long but Noami’s turn comes with “When Will I Learn” where she mixes percussion and abstract noises into a rhythm machine which carries the reflective track that sounds hypnotic but robotic – perhaps in purpose to show how alien it is to reflect properly. “Numb” feels like there’s a touch of Lamb to it, with thick string samples and heavy harsh drum loops underpinning and distorted and haunted vocal. It all culminates in a tour of the world with “Ash” as various different cultures, genres tropes and grooves combine for a rousing protest for life.
I really like “Ash” as an album and whilst its less immediate than their debut, this has a lot of additional emotive points that have grown on me upon each listen. Whilst I wish the vocoder guy had maybe had a day off at times, I’ve even warmed to that on some of the tracks now too. This album is so rooted into today but grounded by yesterday – looking towards tomorrow weary – but optimistic and most importantly defiant. Impressive.
Recommended Track : Deathless