ÌFÉ

IIII + IIII

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Defying easy categorization, ÌFÉ's debut, IIII + IIII, dares listeners to relinquish control and simply enjoy the thrill of a totally unique sonic experience. There's no simple way to define the Puerto Rican band's sound, but one could describe it as a cross-cultural amalgam that starts with Cuban rhumba and adds layers of electronic synth textures, Afro-Caribbean polyrhythmic patterns, and the beating heart of the West African Yoruba religion. It's a globetrotting journey that manages to belong to all. ÌFÉ's founder and lead singer, Otura Mun (Indiana native born Mark Underwood, who relocated to Puerto Rico in 1999), is a producer and DJ by trade, later becoming a Yoruba priest in 2012 after answering a spiritual call. His faith infuses this entire project, which, at points, can feel like a religious ceremony or out-of-body experience. Fans of acts from across the pop spectrum will find something to appreciate on this album, whether it's the wandering soundscapes of Alt-J, the experimental multicultural flair of Gorillaz, the tribal rhythms of Konono No. 1 and Afriquoi, or even the genre-defying thrill of Amadou & Mariam's 2008 effort, the Damon Albarn-produced Welcome to Mali. IIII + IIII -- pronounced "Eji-Ogbe" -- is the first principle in the religion's binary divination system and the chant that kicks off the album on "Preludio (Ejiogbe)." From there, it unfurls over eight organic tracks that entrance and excite, from the feverish "Bangah (Pico y Palo)" to the shiver-inducing hypnosis of the devotional "Prayer for Oduduwa (Para Merceditas)." On its more tender moments, like the sweet "Yumavision" and touching "Umbo (Come Down)," Mun and his cohorts -- musicians Rafael Maya, Beto Torrens, Kathy Capeda, Anthony Sierra, and Yarimir Caban -- create a warm space of familiarity and comfort, even though they sing in mostly Spanish and Yoruba. That inclusive energy is part of ÌFÉ's appeal. Even though they draw inspiration from multiple continents and cultures, the results are universally appealing, with each successive listen uncovering a fresh and unexpected idea. There's even a cover of Steve Winwood's classic "Higher Love" that rides a persistent beat into an extended comedown that is entirely unlike anything else released in 2017. In the context of IIII + IIII's feel-good multiculturalism, Winwood's lyrics are transformed into a prayer, a plea to the spirits and ancestors to bless us with those eponymous good vibes. In the Yoruba language, ÌFÉ can mean "love" or "expansion." Indeed, IIII + IIII expands the mind through the heart, stretching the boundaries of genre definition, listener expectations, and the possibilities found at the crossroads of sound and faith.

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