Ash, the newest album from art-pop duo Ibeyi, offers a variety of sounds. However, all in all, it is a bit too shapeless to truly be sonically compelling.
Spartan beats are typical of Ibeyi, which keep time without taking anything away from the vocals of sisters Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz, of whom Ibeyi is composed. These beats are certainly present on Ash, but have been fleshed out – at least a little bit – with more layers and sampled vocals. It’s difficult to label the sound that Ibeyi puts out other than “spartan,” because there is very little to grasp. Certainly, most songs are poppy and bright. Occasional Afro-Cuban instrumentation appears in the form of a cajón, as does a variety of vocal languages. As vocalists, the Diaz sisters are undeniable, but one must question if the scarcity of instrumental sounds behooves the clarity of their voices, or if the combination feels a little too sanitized.
The longest song on the album, and its centerpiece, “Transmission / Michaelion” is probably its most enjoyable, but also breaks most from the rest of the album. It features nice piano chords and vocal harmonies that give the song some serious bite, but these elements are typically not present on other songs. The electronic beats – by themselves – sound a bit too cheap, a bit too unfinished to be rescued by either the (admittedly stellar) singing of the Diaz sisters or the interesting Yoruban and Afro-Cuban elements that dot the songs. There just isn’t enough to grasp to be really satisfying. That isn’t to say, though, that Ash is a bad album.
Certainly, Ash‘s greatest accomplishment is the message on race and gender which it transmits, and on these no criticism can really be levied. Sonically, too, it’s far from abhorrent. It feels, though, that the album’s good ideas are spread too thin; the delightful acoustic sounds of cajón and batá are lost in a sea of generic electronic drums, the use of sampled audio clips are interesting but don’t feel totally integrated – more so laid on top – and the most common pairing of very sparse beats plus very clear and isolated vocals manages to get tired in short order.
Ash is worth listening to, especially if the ideas it presents interest you, but as a sonic entity, it leaves something to be desired.