To me, the most important and innovative thing happening in music right now is something that can be lumped into a (very broad) genre called “future R&B”: Moody, minimal music for the midnight hour comprising dozens of acts, including The Weeknd, Jhene Aiko, James Blake, BANKS and Tinashe.
FKA Twigs, a British-bred singer and dancer given the name Twigs because of the way her bones crack while dancing (wince!) and affixed with a “FKA (Formerly Known As)” behind her name due to a complaint by a previously existing act named Twigs, is an important new player in that movement.
Although she’d been dancing professionally for major pop acts only a few years ago (look for her in Jessie J‘s “Do It Like A Dude,” plus stints for Queen Kylie Minogue and Ed Sheeran), Twigs truly began to blossom as her own artist with her under-the-radar debut EP1 at the tail-end of 2012. She followed that up with another EP by the second half of 2013 called — you guessed it! — EP2, featuring cuts like “Water Me” and “Papi Pacify.”
But it wasn’t until the spectacular video for “Two Weeks,” something of a cross between Lana Del Rey‘s “Born To Die” and Aaliyah‘s iconic Queen Of The Damned look, that Twigs suddenly became one of the newest “It” darlings in the trendier spaces of fashion and music world by late June.
The slow-marching lead single is not only the record’s most accessible selection, but a solid representation of Twigs’ overall sound, as epic-sounding as it is deeply intimate; equal parts vulnerable and carnal. “My thighs are apart for when you’re ready to breathe in/Suck me up, I’m healing with all the shit you’re dealing,” she dreamily flutters above tripping beats and a warm electronic haze.
LP1 is, like her previous work, a lush and complicated blend of sound and silence, encompassing elements of R&B, hip-hop and experimental electronica crafted alongside an impressive arsenal of the industry’s finest, including Paul Epworth, Emile Haynie and Dev Hynes. Throughout the record, Twigs wraps her breathy vocals around discordant sonic textures, at times evoking Kate Bush and Janet Jackson.
On “Hours,” Twigs falls hard in love — battling a little bit of self-doubt in the process. “I could kiss you for hours,” she swoons and moans above space-age loops and drums, playing like a Lana Del Rey-ified interpretation of Björk’s Vespertine. “Am I certain to fit all of your needs?” she coos.
Indeed, there is a vulnerability embedded in the DNA of LP1 that encapsulates Twigs’ tentativeness about her love life — and her place in the music industry in general. “I love another and thus I hate myself,” she repeats on the album’s opener “Preface” — a quote from a poet named Wyatt that serves as the album’s unofficial subtitle.
So it’s called LP1, but, for me, that quote is the subtitle — you could apply that line to anything in my life for the past two years. I love my music, so I want to produce, write, and serve my music. I’ve had to learn about EQ frequencies, and programming, and space, and clutter, and how to be a better piano or bass player, everything. You can have big aspirations, but then you realize your skill level or your insecurities are holding you back. So you start to hate yourself, because it’s so frustrating! Or it could also be referring to a lover: When you love someone you give them everything, but then they turn out to be a dick, and everything gets chucked back in your face. Then you’re insecure, paranoid, and jealous, and you’re obsessed over that person. It’s one massive head game because you’re like, “Who am I now?” You feel like this shriveled-up Gollum-like creature. And then you hate yourself because you’re trying so hard and it’s just not working. That’s what my album’s about.
That notion of “giving them everything” is echoed on the tender “Lights On,” which sees the songstress hiding under the cover of darkness and in between sparse whines until she’s ready to trust. “You’ll be the first one to find the shadows that make the girl you undo/’Cause the man that you are is defined by the way that you act in the light,” she gingerly coos on the track, which she since explained is a metaphor for “letting certain people see the different, ugly sides of you that others won’t be able to see.”
The music is often visual as well: “Pendulum,” for instance, actually sounds like it’s been recorded inside of a grandfather clock sent from the future, as FKA Twigs frustratingly tries to remedy a failing relationship, moving back and forth between their needs. “You’re younger than I am broken/I dance feelings like they’re spoken/Summer conversations not enough,” she aches above what sounds like a pendulum weight swaying in the background.
The intricate beauty of LP1 exposes itself after repeat listening sessions, including “Closer,” an utterly alien production beamed in from a neighboring planet to Grimes that sees FKA Twigs in hot pursuit of her love.
“Video Girl,” a pre-emptive response to an “authenticity”-obsessed blogosphere in this post-Lana Del Rey world of Internet witch hunts, addresses her past as a dancer. “Is she the girl that’s from the video?” she cheekily repeats over and over again above Portishead-like hammering heats, addressing the questions she’s heard time and time again.
And “Kicks,” the album’s haunting closer, feels like a female response to The Weeknd’s many bleary-eyed ‘booze and bitches’ lonesome odes inside a strip club, as Twigs ponders her lover’s absence. “Tell me what do I do when you’re not here?” she repeats over a dreamy trip-hop soundscape. But this is also a woman who possesses a strong sense of independence: “When I’m alone I don’t need you/I love my touch, know just what to do/So I tell myself it’s cool to get my kicks like you,” she sings. The more she comes to understand the touch of her hand…
The complex work evokes not only contemporaries like Grimes and The Weeknd, but earlier future-sound pioneers like Cocteau Twins, Björk and Massive Attack. For Twigs, though, silence is as much of an instrument as the crackling beats and otherworldly vocals, creating voids and extra dimensions to allow the songs to breathe.
With LP1, FKA Twigs has created a genuinely unique sound for herself: Aspirations, carnal impulses and fears are all fragmented, looped and layered endlessly across carefully curated strange noise, allowing us into her world in between the spaces of sound — but never too much.
Yet while the album is no doubt an excellent and, occasionally, masterful record (it’s certainly one of 2014’s greatest debuts), the album also feels like exactly that: A first impression, and a formal introduction to the FKA Twigs aesthetic she’s cultivated over the past two years. This is an impressive body of work, but it surely isn’t her masterpiece just yet. The title of the album alone suggests that her best is yet to come.
And if all that blabbering has failed to fully convince you to give LP1 a listen, just watch this video of Twigs in motion at a show in New York City. That’s right — she’s vogueing.
Boom. She’s everything.
‘LP1’ was released on August 12. (iTunes)