FKA twigs - LP1
Record Label: Young Turks
Release Date: August 12, 2014
In the post-Weeknd throng of R&B artists cynically aiming for acceptance by the “indie” set, FKA twigs has demonstrated, over the course of her two EPs and now her debut full length LP1, a strong vision of her work that is distinct from the stunted parodies of apathy and detachment that Abel Tesfaye spearheads. Her past work has garnered comparisons to the early-aughts glut of R&B seductresses modeled after Aaliyah’s influential aesthetic as well as the generation of trip-hop that is now nearly two decades past its prime. Blending these disparate sounds and sensibilities is no easy task, yet twigs succeeded in no small part thanks to the hollow booms of Arca following his work on the unhinged depravity of the back half of Yeezus. So, to recap: twigs is easily comparable to a number of artists with cultish fans, is squarely in the zeitgeist’s fascination with “complicated” singers, and she also comes with a narrative to boot (she used to be a dancer in pop music videos). All of which comes very close to suffocating her on LP1, a tangle of influences and contemporaries; yet she manages to keep space in which her frail breath of a singing voice can survive.
The singularity of twigs amongst her peers is ironically a quality that she shares with the Weeknd’s benefactor: likability. Drake remains everyone’s favorite Canadian lothario because he might be a misogynistic, navel-gazing narcissist, but he can charm the hell out of you. While twigs isn’t quite at Drizzy’s borderline Late Night-host levels of likability, she does maintain an auspice of humanity and vulnerability that has been cast aside by many in the current wave of R&B. If she happened to be committed to a certain subset of feminism and largely monogamous, her mystique might even be comparable to a lesser Beyonce. Twigs kicks off LP1 by singing, in a barely understandable way that she “loves another because I hate myself;” later about how she “could kiss you for hours,” and promises that when she trusts you not only will she do it with the lights on, she’ll divulge personal secrets and thoughts. That’s some “I might talk it real if you ask me what I care about” type shit.
Which leaves “Video Girl” in a bit of an awkward position, as the hyper-personal lyrics communicate a desire for isolation from one's public identity. Its the only time that twigs feels under the microscope instead of out of view, and it falters for it. The general sense the song carries is in line with the record, but the lyrical presentation is clumsy and heavy handed, even more so than the rest of the record which features eyebrow raisers on nearly every track. Lyrical missteps, some of which come in the Purity Ring mold of sexualized violent actions like “pull out the incisor” or “feel your body closing, I can rip it open” on highlight “Two Weeks” are easily forgiven when they come so alluringly packaged.
Twigs enlisted a veritable stable of producers for LP1, with Arca and Tic both returning to reprise their roles, but also summoning ethereal master Clams Casino and the man behind Adele’s unstoppable “Rolling in the Deep,” Paul Epworth. If anything, twigs seems like she might have been aiming to make her own version of Kanye’s Yeezus production menage. She certainly succeeded, because LP1 functions as much as a monument to the producers talents as anything else. Closer “Kicks” takes house’s elasticity and makes it stutter and irregular, transforms the word “breathe” into a nearly physical sensation. The album is riddled with idiosyncratic moments that keep the songs from becoming full fledged pop affairs - the skittering knocks of “Pendulum” and the bleating car alarms of “Video Girl” not least among them. On “Numbers,” we get the first taste of what a footwork-R&B hit might sound like if the stars aligned just right, as twigs delivers one of her best hooks and is given the diva-sampling house fuzz treatment in its third minute. That’s followed by “Closer,” which sounds like she’s alone in a cathedral, until she isn’t, and then is again, only now with a chipmunked vocal tic. The rest of the album stands as something of a guidebook to making damaged R&B, a synthesis of sound within an uneven emotional environment where the thud of bass sounds like it’s cracking the frigid synths.
Unpacking twigs emotional state on LP1 is a messy affair, most poignant though is her treatment of being alone. The album hinges on “Pendulum,” wherein twigs confronts the possibility that her striving to be with someone is an effort in vain. “How does it feel to have me thinking about you” she asks, but the answer is irrelevant, because the quivering vocalizations that interrupt your eloquent take down of someone who’s hurt you and lead to a good, embarrassing cry clue us in as to how twigs feels. The album closes on a sour note, with twigs thumbing her nose at a lover in favor of touching herself, alone. We’ve seen her try to develop intimacy and then leer at it half heartedly, and the transformation is a heartbreaker.
FKA Twigs’ dynamism is both emotional and experimental throughout LP1, as she arrives on the heels of her already fully-formed EPs ready to deliver a startling rejuvenation of detached sexual voraciousness. There are moments, like on the chorus to “Give Up” where twigs, whose real name is Tahliah Barnett, seems as though she could suddenly launch herself into the mainstream. That is an impressive feat, coming as it does in an album rife with left-field production and vocal performances. But then we shouldn’t be surprised - three of the nominally “underground” producers featured have appeared on blockbuster rap records, and twigs has struck up some sort of filial relationship with hook-demigod T-Pain. Her magnetism is left intact by the end of LP1, and her remains future is brighter than many of those whom she is compared to.
Great review Ryan. I'm on my second listen of the album right now. I have a feeling Twigs is gonna blow up soon
thanks! i wouldn't be surprised to see her get some spots in higher profile releases or something...she's basically already being treated like a superstar in "indie" circles or w/e, this record is getting an insane amount of positive press