The weight of expectation: it can either ground or crush an artist — or, in this instance, artists. After blowing minds in 2015 with their self-titled debut album, Ibeyi are back with Ash to prove that the first time was no fluke.
Not that there's reason to believe it was one; French-Cuban fraternal twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Díaz are the collective real deal, and their love of soul, hip-hop, dancehall and electronic sounds leant themselves nicely to a sonic bridging of tradition and future-forward vibes that undulated and pulsed with meaning. The same is true on Ash; by leaning even more heavily on the musicality and spirituality gleaned from their Yoruba ancestors, the duo go in on West African sounds, mixed with jazz mixed with soul. It's a minimalistic undertaking from a production point of view, but its themes of diasporic identity, race, inclusiveness and feminism are dense.
The duo sample a poignant phrase by former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama — "The measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls" — to imbue masterful track "No Man Is Big Enough for My Arms" with relevance and thoughtfulness. The trenchant stance that is "Deathless" speaks to racial injustice on a personal scale, leveraging a Kamasi Washington sample to solid effect. But elsewhere, "Numb," while powerful, feels a tad dated in production style, while "Waves" loses itself in its literalism and earnestness: "I am water under the ground."
But then along come the haunting hip-hop atmospherics of "Away Away" and the sensuous salsa tone of "Me Voy," and all is right in Ibeyi's world. Ash doesn't feel as world-shifting or momentous as their debut, but operates on a more intimate level. (XL)