Ibibio Sound Machine: Doko Mien review – borderless groove polymaths

(Merge Records)


At a time when Korean boybands go global, Latin pop tops charts worldwide and Afrobeats pervades the UK rap scene, a London band which combines New York new wave and disco with Ghanaian highlife and Nigerian folk culture seems like a proposition with more mainstream potential by the day. Certainly Ibibio Sound Machine’s trademark sound – a groove-driven melange of styles which also takes in gospel, funk, post- and electro-punk and contemporary R&B, alongside African polyrhythms, horns and guitar – is lively and luxurious enough for the eight-piece outfit to pursue next-level popularity with their third album.

Pulling together the band’s pile-up of influences is London-born, Nigerian-bred vocalist Eno Williams, who on Doko Mien convincingly shape-shifts between conventional power-diva, sultry R&B singer, the feral frontwoman of a post-punk girlband and pidgin English-speaking yarn-spinner, all the while maintaining her own distinctive vocal character. Even more impressive is the way Williams’s voice cuts through the dense instrumentation, which, though fun and fascinating, does sometimes border on the exhaustingly cacophonous. Instead, ISM are most successful when they pare down their maximalist tendencies – on Guess We Found a Way, for instance, a syrupy Scritti Politti-esque ballad spiked with shards of squintingly bright highlife guitar, or the gorgeous I Will Run, which pairs heavenly gospel vocal harmonies with sci-fi synths. It’s on these occasions, when the band’s pan-continental fusion feels casual and classy rather than hyperactively overblown, that the group are at their most thrilling – and best placed to capitalise on the new era of borderless pop.

Contributor

Rachel Aroesti

The GuardianTramp

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