There has been a spectacularly satisfying arc to the career of electrofunk outfit Ibibio Sound Machine so far. Starting with a strong, neo-highlife-laced eponymous debut, the group’s sophomore release, Uyai, was a fresh and plugged-in rendition of Afrobeat with disco touches. For 2019’s Doko Mien, they channeled smooth R&B. Now, Electricity marks yet another colossal entry in Ibibio Sound Machine’s repertoire, and it’s just as high voltage as the title suggests.
The album opens with an invocation as lead singer Eno Williams calls out over tightly wound synths for “spiritual / invisible / protection from evil”, an introductory cry that seems to set this album up for preternatural creative success. From that point forward, this album feels like a sonic world apart, hitting new heights as they continue to draw on the power of the musical currents flowing between Lagos and London. Adding to the group’s well-established skill for lively dance sounds are the members of Hot Chip, who bring their expertise to the production helm and take Electricity to a decidedly more synthpop-heavy space than Ibibio Sound Machine have occupied with past albums.
This is not at the expense of classic musicianship, either. Ibibio Sound Machine’s brass and percussion are as dynamic as ever amid the electrophones. “Oyoyo” in particular puts them at the forefront, horns, and vocals in harmony over interlocking rhythms from Afla Sackey and Joseph Omoako. Electric bass and guitar add melodic layers with just a splash of aural acid. It’s the only track that isn’t totally awash in synths, but it still fits comfortably in the mix, matching the energy of any of the more dancefloor-ready pieces–no easy feat.
In general, songs here range from simmering to explosive. The title track is thick with midtempo polyrhythms and Williams delivering some of her most soulful vocals, a stylistic segue from the relative lyricism of previous Ibibio Sound Machine releases into the more otherworldly Afrofuturism that prevails here in so many different and often temporally-marked forms. “Casio (Yak Nda Nda)” is a full lift-off, crisp cymbals punctuating extended zaps from guitar and keys. There’s a ’90s club groove to the sensual verses and four-on-the-floor beats of “Wanna See Your Face Again” that contrasts well with the more upfront angularity of “17 18 19”. A cloud of classic keys and bass makes “Truth No Lie” a vibrant disco throwback.
Electricity ends with “Freedom”, a song of hope featuring singer Adenike Ajayi as a higher counterpoint to Williams’s deeper voice. They hand off lines until the end when they come together in a final fading chorus: “Freedom / Rain down / Rain down!” On an album marked by particular intensity, it makes for an exhilarating set of last words.
It should be impossible for Ibibio Sound Machine’s body of work to keep getting more exciting, but they top themselves on album after album. Electricity thrills from start to finish, yet another well-crafted work from a band that continually shows itself to be unbound by categories of space, time, and genre. This is past, present, and future funk all rolled into one and ready for a fantastic time.