Album Review: Ibeyi - Ibeyi

Album Reviews
02/19/2015
Gerrit Feenstra

2015 has now officially seen its first perfect debut of the year, and the award goes to Ibeyi. Last year, we got a wonderful double A-side introduction to the twin duo of Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz with the Oya EP, together with "River". Now, we have a full 46 minutes of pure magic and mystery that couldn't be more of a breath of fresh air in the pop scene that they enter into. Barely scratching the age of 20, the Diaz twins have crafted an XL debut that easily finds its right place among the label's best work, while also existing entirely in a realm of its own. There's almost no point in talking about Ibeyi - you have to hear them to believe it. So, we best advise you to dive in and grab your tickets to their upcoming Seattle date while you can.

Ibeji, in the Nigerian-Cuban language Yoruba, means "twins". In a word, you have a lot of background for the Diaz sisters. The two are indeed twins, but their rich familial and cultural history plays into every bit of their sound construction. At times, the record tends towards French pop. Elsewhere, it's deeply rooted in the Nigerian-Cuban sounds that the two grew up with. Their father was Anga Díaz, who played cajón among other things in Buena Vista Social Club. That being the case, the twins have an ear for percussive minimalism - they don't need much of a base at all for their nearly a cappella, skeletal pop songs. In fact, for the most part on Ibeyi, the less there is between the listener's ear and the tangled, twisting voices of Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi together, the sweeter it sounds. The two could put a chill down your spine with a single syllable, and with 46 minutes without a single one wasted, that's a lot of opportunity to get overwhelmed with wonder.

Ibeyi is also a blast to listen to because it's such a perfect addition to the XL catalogue. XL doesn't pick their roster willy nilly - from The Prodigy to Adele, every name makes perfect sense in the context of the others. Ibeyi is no exception to this rule. Listening to the light-hearted piano-driven world pop of "Ghosts" fade into the bass driven R&B sultriness of "River", your heart skips a beat just to kick into Ibeyi's groove. As the melancholy, stripped ballad of "Mama Says" dives into the synthesizer heavy hip-hop pacing of "Weatherman", you turn your speakers up without any desire for some crowd pleaser explosion. Ibeyi surpass any and all notions of genre. This record deserves to be played in every space possible.

Of course, the flip-side of that coin is that there is definitely an eclectic mixture going on with Ibeyi. On first listen, it may not be the most accessible record of all time if you have no clue what you are getting yourself into. The Díaz sisters switch seamlessly between pop song in English to complex time signature Yoruba harmony. To them, it sounds incredibly natural, while to the listener, it's a curve ball that you'll learn to love every time it happens. The best way to take Ibeyi's debut in is in full, and every time you flip the record over, you love it more.

Lyrically, Ibeyi deal mostly in relationship. Sure, it can be a straightforward topic, but the twins approach every one of the common motifs with a carefully applied personal context. The album follows a very natural order. It starts out with a number of tracks about the past and application to the present. Songs like "Ghosts" and "Think of You" look backwards with desire to make sense of the present, learning from both the blessings and the hardships of those before to make every new day the most fulfilled. Next, there is a phase of exploration. Here, there is loneliness and confusion, but all with the goal of self-exploration. "Behind The Curtain", "Stranger/Lover", and "Mama Says" all ask questions about intention, sanctification, and reconciliation with lovers, family, and beyond. The twins weigh every face around them in desire to make fulfilled decisions of their own. Then the record ends with the beginnings of a personal framework. Entering womanhood and experiencing all of the benefits as well as stipulations that accompany it, the Díaz sisters stand firm in who they are and who they want to be to the world.

The lyrical progression plays well into the sonic mixture of the record. There is past, present, and future, and there is here and there, but all of it works into our personal life narrative. In 46 minutes, Ibeyi give us a snapshot of their narrative in hopes that it might benefit yours. And even if you don't put yourself deep into the lyrics, Ibeyi's incredibly unique and captivating sound will brighten your day regardless. The record is truly a wonder of a debut, and it's a confident first step that promises massive things for this young duo.

Ibeyi is out now on XL Recordings. Pick it up at your local record store on CD or vinyl. Catch Ibeyi live on KEXP on April 5 and later that night at Neumos! Grab tickets for the show here.

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