FKA twigs, LP1

A Feverish, Beguiling Debut
from Electro-R&B-Pop Siren

Jesse Kanda © 2014

Are there any more enigmas left in pop music? The trend as of late is for artists to release a plethora of music, complete with videos, interviews, and explanations, always ready and willing to deconstruct their creations for fans (and of course, potential buyers). The result: an extraordinarily bland landscape, full of overanalyzed records and unenthusiastic attempts to sell everything to everyone.

Enter FKA twigs, née Tahliah Barnett, a backup dancer from southwestern England who’s steadily grown in popularity since the release of her first EP in 2012. Known for her eccentric, electronic compositions and eerie videos, FKA twigs’ debut album, inconspicuously titled LP1, was released under Young Turks in August 2014. Amid shy, coquettish vocals and cacophonous production, FKA twigs rises as music’s most captivating mystery in recent memory.

The album from the very beginning, with the ominous, chant-like “Preface.” The song’s only lyric, “I love another / And thus I hate myself,” is a thesis statement for the tracks that follow, both lyrically and sonically. The convulsing, crackling beat, the angelic choruses in the background, and the steadily, evolving progression of the track only intensify over the course of LP1. The album is unabashedly discordant – from the warped twangs of “Numbers” to the breathy, booming “Give Up.” You can feel the twisted desires, the impassioned pleas and gasps in the music itself. LP1 is not for the faint of heart.

FKA twigs herself is inseparable from the songs she so chillingly purrs over. Her vocals are intimately intertwined with the music, making it almost impossible to discern where she ends and the track begins. Take “Hours”: the echoing whispers and high-pitched wails sound both organic and synthetic, as if she has physically manifested herself into skeleton of the song. LP1 is cryptic at first blush, no doubt due to the myriad producers and writers involved on the project. The album features credits from Emile Haynie (a key producer on Lana Del Rey’s “Born To Die,” Bruno Mars’ and “Unorthodox Jukebox”), Arca (the electronic producer known for his solo projects and his work with Bjork), Dev Hynes (the multi-instrumentalist writer/producer who also performs as Blood Orange), and Paul Epworth (of Adele’s behemoth “21” and “25” fame), among others. Trip-hop beats mesh with echoing synths as sinewy, pitching choirs play above crackling snaps, each track bouncing between dischord to harmony before the first chorus hits. It’s a strange cacophony of music, but an enchanting one nonetheless.

The lyrics of LP1, though rather simplistic for the most part, are just as vital to the experience of the album as its production. It is here that the double-sided nature of twigs’ persona is best illustrated – on one side stands the timid, submissive lover (“Pendulum,” “Kicks,” and “Lights On”), and the other is the dominant, mesmerizing black widow (“Two Weeks,” “Hours.”) She presents these two extremes as an uncompromising polarity; a musical expression of love so passionate and unbridled she destroys herself in the process. The writhing synths and a reverberating drum line on “Two Weeks” are juxtaposed with breathless warnings: “You say you want me / I say you think about it,” and later, “Pull out the incisor, give me two weeks, you won’t recognize her.” twigs is at her most confident here, spiraling off a perverted power trip she knows can only end in devastation. Later, on “Pendulum,” she mourns her distant lover – “So lonely trying to be yours / When you’re looking for so much more.” Between these two tracks she recognizes the dual nature of toxic, mutually dependent relationships, and that it’s hardly a one-sided battle. The most revelatory lyric in “Pendulum” comes towards the end, and directly references her merciless consummation in “Two Weeks”: “How does it feel to have me thinking about you? / Wishing my words were enough to consume you.” Just as the track twitches and thrusts, agitated in its own right, so too does she squirm in the torment of unrequited love.

The dexterity with which FKA twigs crafts her musical landscapes is meticulous and decisive, offering the listener just enough to relate to without distracting them with generalities and superfluous information. She pinpoints the delicate distinctions between insatiable lust and hysterical fixation and the oft-illusive connections between self-loathing and an obsession with someone else.

LP1 is honest, refusing to cover the scars left by a former lover with a radio-friendly alternative-R&B track, letting the music itself speak to the masochism of wanting something (or someone) you cannot have. In a world where lyrics are analyzed to identify which ex each song is about, FKA twigs remains defiantly taciturn. On LP1, she’s is less interested in attaching a song to a specific person, and more invested in digging into the psyche and patterns of relationships. LP1 gives a voice to all the words we dare not utter, and FKA twigs, as its faithful oracle, emerges as pop music’s newest sphinx, shrouded in a chilling omniscience and with a taste for everything raw and agonizing.