A percussive incantation for the dead and for personal revival.
Ibeyi reaches their third album “Spell 31” having changed up their writing style. Traditionally the French-Cuban sisters have written melody first, then beats. This time around the beats came first and whilst this may not sound like a big thing, it means that this album has a pulse and rhythmic flow to it that is a little more visceral than “Ash” or “Ibeyi”.
The tracks where this comes across best are the ones where the vocal hooks and drums collide together to push forward. Melodically, this is the sparsest album and the instrumentation is heavily streamlined. Tracks like “Sister 2 Sister” use the vocals like incantations to raise their love for their craft from the ground. “Made of Gold” brings in guest Pa Salieu to rap around smooth warm synths and defiant vocals.
Ibeyi always carries a sadness to their music and that dark hue is on overdrive after the opening few tracks. “Creature (Perfect)” has thundering drums and curious electric guitars. The duo’s ability to use lines like “I don’t have to be perfect” that sound uplifting but placing it in an uncertain musical setting exudes internal conflict. “Tears Are Our Medicine” is a quiet bass and vocal ballad that offers more of an emotional hug. “Rise Above” mixes and matches razor buzz synths and a discordant beeping siren as Ibeyi demand they are tired of the abuse and will rise above. It is a cover of Black Flag’s punk number and sounds chaotic and conjuring.
Whilst this is all good, I have two irksome issues with the album. Firstly, it’s over in 25 minutes. “O Inle” is a wonderful solo drum and chant but it is over in 30 seconds. “Los Muertos” feels dark and magical but closes out the album in just over a minute. Only three tracks go over the three-minute mark and often other tracks feel rushed. This leads me to my second annoyance – some tracks just stop or break down without a real ending. I feel like if there’s going to be an album about spells and The Book of The Dead, leaning into the otherworldly darkness would have been great. It doesn’t really hit the story arc for me personally.
“Spell 31” is a nice but brief album that shows signs of exactly what makes Ibeyi a unique and powerful voice in the world of music. I hope that future albums allow the duo to breathe a little more and think more about how an album is structured so it tells the story better.
Recommended track: Made of Gold
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