Monday, 21 January 2019

United Future Organization ‎– Bon Voyage (1999)

Style: Acid Jazz, Downtempo
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Mercury, Brownswood Records, Instinct Records

1.   Good Luck Shore
2.   Tres Amigos
3.   Flying Saucer
4.   Happy Birthday
5.   Niji
6.   Pilgrims
7.   Dans Ce Desert
8.   Somewhere
9.   Labyrinth - Enter At Own Risk

Two Japanese DJs team up with a French DJ to release acid-jazz records heavily rooted in bossanova.... Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke doesn't it? Generally, United Future Organization's Bon Voyage is little more than a bad joke -- the epitome of novelty dance music in the Pizzicato Five, or even Brand New Heavies (egads!) vein. However, Bon Voyage shows ever-so-fleeting glimpses of the loungey, crime-film soundtrack jazz which makes Dimitri from Paris so winning. The album begins with the disastrous "Tres Amigos". The song babbles for an endless six minutes of knock-off Brazilian rhythms (the album art also somewhat shamefully features photographs of the three DJs with a map of Brazil as background). The only redeeming quality is that it reminds me of the Sex and the City theme music, which is also lousy but at least it reminds me of Sex and the City which is excellent -- however, such a lengthy chain of causation is not exactly what I'm looking for. "Somewhere" is even worse as it doesn't hint at Sex and the City or any other stellar television. 
So by the time the third track -- "Good Luck Shore" which is truly excellent (Gainsbourg samples, pouncing percussion and a hook-filled string of vocal splices) -- rolls around, I'm generally so exhausted that I'm too impatient to separate the good from the abhorrent for the remainder of the record (UFO provides little middle ground). While UFO, with Dee Dee Bridgewater on vocals, prepares a steaming take of bopmaster James Moody's composition "Flying Saucer", they all too readily regress into the world music, chain coffee shop background noise excess of "Pilgrims". 
Any listener who perseveres through the tandem of "Labyrinth -- Enter at Your Own Risk" (Yes, that's really the title and it fits the song most snugly) and "Happy Birthday" to endure the alleged "bonus track", the "Organic Audio Mix" of "Tres Amigos" is a masochist.
Eamon P. Joyce / popMATTERS 

Ibeyi ‎– Ibeyi (2015)

Style: Indie Pop, Experimental
Format: CD, Vinyl
LAbel: XL Recordings

01.   Eleggua
02.   Oya
03.   Ghosts
04.   River
05.   Think Of You
06.   Behind The Curtain
07.   Stranger / Lover
08.   Mama Says
09.   Weatherman
10.   Faithful
11.   Yanira
12.   Singles
13.   Ibeyi

Music By – Lisa Kainde Diaz
Recorded By, Mixed By – John Foyle, Richard Russell
Vocals, Drums, Percussion, Arranged By – Naomi Diaz
Vocals, Piano, Synth, Bass, Arranged By – Lisa Kainde Diaz

"Ibeyi" is the Yoruba term for the divine spirit that exists between twins. It is also the name of 20-year-old French-Cuban duo Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé Díaz. Currently based in Paris, Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi grew up on both sides of the Atlantic. Their father was Cuban conguero and master percussionist Miguel "Angá" Díaz of Irakere and Buena Vista Social Club. Díaz passed away when Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi were only 11, and their older sister Yanira followed him seven years later. But the sisters have taken up their legacies via their own music and their family's shared beliefs in Regla de Ocha. Regla de Ocha, also known as Santería, is a widely practiced Afro-Cuban religion based on the worship of orishas, which have roots in West African Yoruba culture. Musically, Ibeyi ground themselves firmly within these traditions, but they weave them together with jazz, soul, hip-hop, and downtempo/electronica. The result is their deeply evocative self-titled debut. 
In many ways, Ibeyi is an extended ritual—a consecration of life and love, both past and present. Fittingly, the album opens with a Yoruba prayer to Eleggua, the gatekeeper of crossroads and pathways, whose blessing alone allows ceremonies to proceed. The presence of Eleggua and other orishas saturates the album, thematically and musically. In "River", for example, Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi pray to Oshun, the orisha of rivers and fertility. As the song begins, a bass-heavy drum beat churns through a slow-moving current of looped "ah"s, and Lisa-Kaindé intones, "Carry away my dead leaves/ Let me baptize my soul with the help of your waters/ Sink my pains and complaints/ Let the river take them—" she chokes up, "—river, drown them!" The track feels monumental; this is, after all, a call for rebirth. Yet, upon stripping away the vocals and reverb, it becomes apparent that the only other instruments involved are a MIDI controller (or two) and the occasional smattering of piano. And that's exactly what makes Ibeyi so remarkable. Instrumentally, their music is sparse. But it always feels full, with emotion and the kind of spirituality that is as deep as the people and circumstances that created it. And so it makes sense that Ibeyi is teeming with ghosts. Most prominent among them, of course, is their father's. On "Think of You", the sisters sample Angá's drumming, which fades in and out, specter-like, during the refrains when his daughters list the things that remind them of him (laughter, walking on rhythm, etc.). On "Mama Says", he resurfaces in the frustrations Lisa-Kaindé expresses as she sees her mother struggle to find meaning in life after his death. And during the chant break, she and Naomi pray to Eleggua, who was their father's orisha. 
Vocally, Lisa at times channels Nina Simone, and in her higher register, she can even recall Kate Bush circa "Wuthering Heights". Her ability to imbue deep emotion and otherworldliness into simple lyrics, meanwhile, is Björk-like. Naomi, in turn, explores the ways that Yoruba tradition and contemporary rhythms can meet. It's not quite what her father did on his last project, in which he fused Afro-Cuban music with jazz and hip-hop, but they both move from the same impulse. Naomi will sometimes play hip-hop beats on cajón, or add electronic booms and claps that thunder through a track like "Oya", in reference to the song's namesake—Oyá, the orisha of storms and cemeteries. 
The texts and subtexts in Ibeyi keep unfolding, but it feels immediate and direct regardless of how much of that text the listener is familiar with. Part of that is the nature of the language: Ibeyi do not just sing about their father, or Yanira, or once-lovers, or the orishas; they sing to them. By and large, they sing in terms of "me," "you," and "we," and at times, the lines between those entities are blurred. Which means that we are automatically implicated, living with them, or at least standing very nearby. 
If there is a critique to make, it's that the production can at times feel too smoothed over. Some of the rougher edges and raw(er) emotion that got the twins noticed in the first place get ironed out a bit. And one side effect is that a few of the album's final tracks sound somewhat similar in tonality, tempo, and their vibe. But Ibeyi still find subtle ways to create shape, as in the single piano key that pulses like a heart monitor in "Yanira", their song to their late sister, or the chilling dissonance in the twins' harmonies throughout. 
By the end of the album, Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé come full circle to face themselves, ending as they began: with a prayer. This time, it is to their namesake, Ibeyi. It is a joyful moment. And it is also, as every debut album attempts to but doesn't always succeed in being, a declaration of self.
Minna Zhou / Pitchfork