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FKA twigs - LP1

LP1 explores the roles of lover and artist with a genre-bending style.

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Tahliah Barnett, aka FKA Twigs, caught the attention of many with her defiantly eccentric first EPs and videos—T-Pain even went so far as to state that she changed his life in one interview. This early work, often in collaboration with producer Arca, set her apart from other R&B artists in the US and Britain through her rejection of established musical tropes in favor of unique, stylistic expression. Based out of London, and distributed by British label Young Turks, her music borders between smooth R&B, grime, experimental hip-hop, and underground electronic.

One often talked about characteristic of Barnett’s music is its sexuality, and with lines like, “I can fuck you better... motherfucker, get your mouth open and you know you’re mine,” one understands where the talk comes from. Though common for an R&B artist, the lusty sound stands in stark contrast to the bizarre and otherworldly sterility of many of her productions. This creates a strangely tinged sexuality that is distinct from the usual libido-infused R&B crooning. Indeed, Barnett has downplayed the importance of sexuality in her lyrics, saying in an interview with Pitchfork that in most cases the lyrics seen as most sexual are charged with a separate and more personal significance. For instance she says that the line, “If you want to touch me you can do it with the lights on” is “a metaphor for letting certain people see the different, ugly sides of you that others won't be able to see.” Despite her statement, there is still something strikingly sexual about her music, but that is certainly not the only level it operates at.

Related to the sexuality of the music is its focus on the role of lover. From the opening quote by poet Wyatt, “I love another and thus I hate myself,” LP1 explores intimate relationships between people and the grittier, less-fantasized consequences. This theme too though, seems to have another level hiding beneath, tying the role of the lover to that of artist: where the beloved other and the work of art merge, and the similar feelings they engender are explored. Like love, art comes with its own successes, beauties, insecurities and insufficiencies; it offers worlds of meaning and joy—but as Twigs herself has expressed, love and art don’t always help with the bills.

Thus, LP1 gives room to the various experiences of both roles. In “Preface”, “Pendulum” and “Numbers”, Barnett sounds vulnerable, even hurt. The line, “Am I Just a number to you,” brings that haunting question of significance, meaning and timelessness in both love and art. In contrast, “Two Weeks”, “Hours” and “Give Up” embody self-assurance, whether it’s the blissed-out desire of “Hours”, the fierce self-confidence of “Two Weeks”, or the potency of “Give Up”. Barnett sings both roles well, capturing the heights and depths of desire, satisfaction, and loss in her vocal inflection.

Experiences of love and art are also captured in the instrumental, though in a different manner to the vocal and lyrical. Barnett’s chosen instrumentals employ a vast palette of sounds where focus seems to be given to the feeling that certain sounds provoke, rather than to building any compelling harmonic structure. In broad strokes, most of these musical spaces are shadowy and roomy, peopled by ghostly vocal resampling, otherworldly synth patches, sharp clacking percussion and subterranean bass. In contrast to her smooth—sometimes angelic—and often-passionate voice, these constructions are stark spaces.

This tension, among other things, is what sets FKA Twigs apart from the pop R&B crowd. Hers are not the velvety instrumentals that dominate much of popular R&B and its electronic-infused incarnations like The Weekend. Instead, Barnett is not afraid to venture into experimental territory: the oft-aggressive frontier regions of electronic and hip-hop. Yet, there is always something, frequently her voice, that grounds these tracks in the melodic, the smooth—the caressing R&B voice that keeps the track from being all grit and bone, or candy-sweet. Therefore, as a coherent piece of work, LP1 fulfills much of what those already familiar FKA Twigs work could have hoped for: themes of art and love (and even artistic love) compel complex emotion, always oddly tangible in her work; whilst innovative productions drive her voice, fitting perfectly with her concepts and extraterrestrial-pop aesthetic. In this way, never settling for any less—constantly stretching the boundaries of what R&B can be—Barnett confirms her place in the spotlight.

“All eyes on you now, what you gonna do?”

1. Preface
“Preface” begins with echoes of earlier track “Water Me” followed by the chanted repetition of, “I love another and thus I hate myself". The track quickly shifts to a jagged and jumpy hip-hop beat, with offbeat noise percussion, layers of vocal resampling, and various other tension-inducing aural delights.8.0
2. Lights On
Barnett’s voice sails over shadowy beats that shift between airy, sparse verses and a fleshed out hook—adding some intimacy to her otherwise-barren environment. Consistent with much of her older style, the track features mournful mallets, faintly growling synths, and a subtly morphing sonic environment.7.0
3. Two Weeks
Barnett shifts from the voice of vulnerability that seems to run through the first songs, to one of empowerment, gaining emotional momentum as the track wears on. Pulsing bright synths carry Barnett’s passionate voice as she calls out “I can fuck you better".9.0
4. Hours
“Hours” shifts between experimental R&B and something down-tempo, with a sound palette at times reminiscent of Bonobo’s recent work—though her varying use of density is far from Bonobo’s comparatively straightforward constructions. Lyrically, the song explores desire and lust with hazy and airy vocals.8.5
5. Pendulum
Sounding a bit more like James Blake than Beyoncé, this track will satisfy those (like the author) whose main foray into R&B has been through a UK genre vaguely labeled as post-dubstep. Barnett also brings back her signature shifting and out-of-tempo clacking percussion that somehow works so well in contrast to the near-superhuman smoothness of her voice.9.0
6. Video Girl
In her interview with Pitchfork, Barnett talks about the autobiographical nature of this song. Repeating the often-heard question, “She the girl from the video", Barnett rejects her past, and all its pressure, to embrace where she is now with a voice that is at times poppy and tightly melodic, and, at others, wandering breathily over the boom-crack of a bizarre beat.9.0
7. Numbers
Another track that puts on the cold post-dubstep coat with pitch bent basslines, frantic percussion and infinite variations of vocal resampling with lyrics exploring the vulnerability of just being another lover.9.0
8. Closer
The oddball of the album, “Closer” is a love song that sounds like a remix of the song in a David Lynch movie—which means it’s pretty awesome. Lofted by heavenly reverb and punctuated by the distinctly 80’s drum-machine tom roll, “Closer” lives in that small space between campy and serious that is often surprisingly compelling.7.5
9. Give Up
With the chorus, “Just nod your head and give up, I’m not gunna let you get up babe", “Give Up” is raw power (though it glazes over later on with twinkling notes and swelling pads). A sultry 808-driven thumper, complete with those delicious high-hat rolls, “Give Up” booms and slaps.9.0
10. Kicks
Starting small with ghostly vocal resampling and Barnett’s voice, “Kicks” explodes into a shifting and complex 5-minute construction that never seems to return to any repeated phrase. As with many other tracks on LP1, “Kicks” maintains an outlandish and addictive mixture of catchy, and experimental, though it seems to fluctuate between these two poles rather than reconcile them.8.0

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