Review Summary: Well, what else would you expect from the debut of a group whose name literally translates to "twins"?
It seems as if Ibeyi were destined to become "the next critical dark horse". Their 2014 debut EP Oya
had music bloggers and critics shitting their pants in unison, and it isn't hard to see why: French-Cuban twin sisters Naomi and Lisa-Kainde Diaz have a knack for beautiful, at times even eerie vocal harmonies. There's plenty of that to be found on their self-titled debut LP. Each song is laden with vocal lines and harmonies that are just as gorgeous to listen to as they are unsettling. This isn't anything new; Alice in Chains had a reputation for the exact same thing. Except whereas Alice in Chains were rooted in grunge and hard rock, Ibeyi's musical style is a blend of world music, jazz and electronica. The music here is very pretty and at times, catchy, and even funky when it wants to be. There's not a trace of bad music to be found here- the problem is, as a listening experience, it's very unsatisfying and unfulfilling. As of writing, I have listened to Ibeyi
a total of 5 times, and each time I have found myself enjoying the experience, only to feel empty at the end of it all. It's almost like eating a big platter of candy and sugary sweets; there's plenty of deliciousness and plenty of savoury goodness present, but afterwards, you don't feel as if you've devoured anything substantial. And that's the big problem with Ibeyi
: the album tries to remain in your head without trying to leave much of an impact. The songs are enjoyable, but they're not good, despite how hard the duo try.
What's really interesting about the album is that the focus of the music is trying to balance out ancient tribal sounds with modern electronic production- problem is, that seems to be the only thought put into the sonds aside from the vocal power on display. Every track has a pseudo-hip hop/tribal/jazz fusion sound, and some songs can be downright catchy, but that's all they have to offer. After the promising intro "Elugga", which features the girls setting the spooky tone with repeated soft vocals over minimal music, and its next track "Oya", which is a creepy tune and almost sounds like it would fit well in a film about a coven, the tracks do pick up and do get lighter, while still managing to keep a nice spooky touch. But there's hardly more to the album than that, and that's where the album falls flat. The sisters seem to be too focused on making the music precise, and they forget how to make it memorable in the process. Which is a shame, because tracks like "Mama Says" and "Yanira" manage to set a sad tone and a sense of longing with both the vocal power and the melancholy tone of the music, but they don't leave a lasting impression. Another thing about the album is that its structure is very repetitive- while "River" and "Think of You" boast chilled, hip-hopesque sounds, they simply repeat too much and make the songs feel longer than they are.
Interestingly enough, despite the duo's reliance on precision, it's rather startling how poorly said precision is executed. It's cool that the Diaz sisters love to experiment and sing their sorrows to us, but it almost feels as if these songs are for themselves and not for the public. Which, I guess can be said about any album, and I guess that's as good an excuse as any. But Ibeyi truly seem to believe in the merits of what they do- which is just as much a good thing as it is a bad thing. They are taking themselves seriously, and they are willing to set themselves apart from a lot of other artists, but it does eventually get to a point when the music becomes merely precision for the sake of it, and while it is clear that they have talent, they seem to junk it in favour of making the music as perecise and on-point as possible. I do have hope for these girls, and only time will tell where they go from here.