Monday, December 7th, 2015

Ibeyi – River

If you’ve been waiting for a English/Yorùbá track by some French/Cuban twins, then you’re in luck thanks to reader Moka:

Nina Lea Oishi: “River” has been one of my favorite tracks since I discovered it earlier this year. There’s a little synth chirp-sound that reminds you you’re listening to something modern, but at the same time, the track has an ageless, haunting feel to it. Perhaps it’s the minor-key harmonies, the drum beats that call up something ancient and ancestral, the way the phrase “come to your river” conjures up gospel hymns. Still, my absolute favorite part is the Yorùbá verse at the end, radiating jubilant praise. Ultimately, “River” is a track that feels thoroughly modern but also deeply rooted in tradition.

William Love: “River” is a gem — every part of this song comes together in harmony to create a beautiful package. From the sparse, yet impactful production, to Lisa-Kaindé Diaz’s dramatic vocals, to the electronic clicks that accompany every pounding drum beat, there is no part of this song that feels out of place. I only wish that they had done more with the last fifty seconds — had that been a song in itself, I would be ecstatic.

Alfred Soto: These French-Cuban sisters meld a soul vocal with an eerie backing track: groaning vocal treated as synth wash, snapping and thumping percussive gewgaws. For a couple of minutes the track is fine until they switch to Yoruba. At once they imbue the commonest of tropes with a cross-cultural urgency.

Thomas Inskeep: God, yes. French-Cuban twin sisters signed to XL, singing in English and Yorùbá, with a percussionist father who was Cuban jazz royalty (Buena Vista Social Club, Irakere), sounding like they learned all about production from listening to Tricky’s Pre-Millenial Tension, and all about singing from listening to Marsha Ambrosius. I mean, seriously, what’s not to like? This is claustrophobic in the best of ways.

Austin Brown: I love the story and the people behind Ibeyi so much. And yet, frustratingly, none of their songs stand out in any meaningful way to me. “River” threatens to upset that by starting out promisingly with a rhythm that seems almost spring-loaded, ratcheting up appropriately spooky tension with hums in the background. So why don’t these vocally intriguing sisters do anything with it? Rather than play into the powerful atmosphere they’ve worked to establish, the evocative but underdeveloped writing seems fit simply to tag along.

Josh Langhoff: In a world flooded with river metaphors and… dripping?… with mysterious electronic understatement, these sisters make the combination work. The tune’s strong enough that it sounds like a source for all those other river songs, and along with the high-concept video (whoa), the understatement focuses your attention on the minutiae of their voices. Their careful phrasing sells the annihilation.

Micha Cavaseno: One metaphor, a tedious rising scale bassline, and not a lot else. For all the spartan qualities, the fact that this song’s been so fawned upon for a lack of any real ideas surprises me to this day.

Megan Harrington: I’m never fully sure whether this is a sexy song about religion or a religious song about sex. There’s also some murder or suicide in the mix, depending on which way the sex/religion split tips.

Tristan Bella: “River” begins with the sound of an 808 left to dry overnight in the desert, and a piano that curiously stumbles upon the abraded beat. Both are replenished by the chorus of lost souls that washes over the rhythm before twins Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz enter. The sisters profess their major differences in personality, but when singing, it’s as if they were one. They repeatedly search for a pardon of their mistakes and their shame, yet never seem to get there. That’s not to say these pain-basins are hard to find. Life is filled with “rivers” able, willingly or reluctantly, to purge your soul: god, parents, siblings, friends, teachers, therapists, Twitter (this is rare), the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, pets, a glass of wine (though a whole bottle is much more effective), and, of course, music. Though when “River” gets to the Yoruban-sung coda, you just hope they’ve found the right stream.

Patrick St. Michel: Can’t think of a better way to write “this is really unnerving but also catchy, so it’s good for me,” so there you go.

Scott Ramage: Nobody sounds more like yourself than you, so it makes sense that a pair of twins can harmonise perfectly: what makes more sense is that the moments they choose not to are the moments that “River” gets more interesting. The story is of salvation and cleansing, but the delivery feels didactic and earnest. It’s saved by its own sparseness: the minimal beat and peripheral choir make it just interesting enough to avoid the pitfalls of Jools Holland-approved neo-soul. It loses a point for the jarring coda, but gains it back for one of the most arresting videos seen all year.

Hannah Jocelyn: *snobby voice* Bass-heavy minimalism is tied with tripled hi-hats as the most overused trope of any genre this year. It just needs to stop, you know? Everything sounds exactly the same right now, moody and dreary, so dull and — woah, a tempo change with lyrics sung in Yorùbá! Sweet!

William John: The video illuminating this sparse, doomy canticleis unsettling and prompts a multitude of questions (whose tattooed arm lies beneath Lisa-Kandé’s head? How dependent on genetics is one’s lung capacity?). We’ve needed a group to replace Cocorosie as the best known band of sisters with a French connection for a while, and the authors of a track with an outro of Yorùbá chants are worthy candidates.

Edward Okulicz: The repeated call of “I will come to your river” retains its power despite, or perhaps because of the repetition, and is a captivating hook which colours the rest of the track nicely, evoking the idea of ritual I can’t place or care about, but can understand the power of. It’s a shame that the second good idea, the Yorùbá chants that close the song, waits until the end of the song, livening up a beat that’s gone a bit stale by that point. Even so I can’t help but admire the song for its determined minimalism more than enjoy it.

Brad Shoup: There’s a wonderful divide between the scrunched wishes delivered by Ibeyi and the impassive perpetual unspooling of the percussion. It’s desire and its divine fulfillment. To a lapsed evangelical, it depicts something of the mercy afforded the unworthy. To the actual people that wrote the thumping verse that closes, it’s an earnest wish well met.

Gaya Sundaram: This video perfectly conveys the mood and theme of “River.” So perfectly, that I experienced phantom asphixiation.

Reader average: [8.5] (4 votes)

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6 Responses to “Ibeyi – River”

  1. I didn’t have time to send a blurb but the overall score and reviews for this are great.

    Shame on you, Maxwell! Shame on you.

  2. Megan: The song is dedicated to Oshun. In the Yoruban religion she is the goddess of water, fertility, love and sexuality.

    So, it’s both a sexy song about religion and a religious song about sex.

  3. That said, I’ve always listened to it as a ‘rebirth’ song.

  4. good to know, thank you!

  5. Couldn’t find a way to fit it in my blurb but I love a great static single-camera music video and this is definitely a great one. Thank you Moka!

  6. This sooo grew on me. I would give it an 8 or 9 now instead of the 7 I gave it here.