Review Summary: That's so amazing.
Trip-hop had so much potential. Whether it was the full scale of its emotional palette (as evidenced by acts like Portishead and Tricky opining about love, loss and politics on their respective releases), or the depth of the production, trip-hop showcased the best of its forebearers in a way that was delightful morbid and tasteful. Whether it was the rock/industrial permutation of Nine Inch Nails or the jazz/garage permutation of Portishead, trip-hop provided a meaningful outlet for the anxieties of turn-of-the-century musicians. But, because it wasn’t grunge and there were not real “crossover” releases (the closest was “Glory Box” from the aforementioned), the actual advent of the 2000s brought with it the end of trip-hop, or so we thought. Enter FKA twigs, a 27-year old jack of all trades boasting a range akin to early Janet Jackson and a clear intention of bringing trip-hop back.
Before addressing just about anything about this release, one must first address Twigs herself. As a musician, she’s almost unknowably proficient at what she does. Her first EP, entirely self-produced, packs a punch and compositional edge that one wouldn’t expect from a self-produced and relatively low-key release. The lyrics also pack a punch and, while standard R&B fare, possess a cadence that is shared by only a few other artists in the game right now (read: Banks and Tinashe come to mind). The best tracks from “EP1” were the ones that were straightforward and bold in their direction, advancing an idea into fruition in the most expedient and thoughtful way, a trait more closely tied to modern post-dubstep than the trip-hop of the past. So how does “EP2” do when compared to its predecessor?
Remarkably well, in fact. There’s not a single track on “EP2” that doesn’t succeed in the same way that tracks like “Ache” did off “EP1.” Almost every moment from “EP2” hits with a pound of emotional weight. The chorus on “How’s That,” while sensual as all hell, feels a bit desperate in a way that feels intentional and, coupled with “Papi Pacify,” the picture becomes clear. In a manner similar to Banks, Twigs paints vividly a picture of abuse of the subtlest and most insidious caliber. This theme is brought home on single and standout “Water Me,” where Twigs essentially adopts the role of a prostitute who hopelessly seeks a deeper relationship with one of her johns. When the lines are looked past, the EP is almost acutely tragic in a way that some of the best trip-hop releases tried, but failed, to express.
And the actual compositions live up to this sentiment well, creating a simultaneously gorgeous and uneasy atmosphere in which Twigs can emote. Arca really put in work on this release, providing deep bass kicks and almost industrial embellishments coupled with beautiful ambient textures on all the tracks. The production ideas thrown in are remarkable for a release of this length, with soaring R&B (“Ultraviolet”), reverb-heavy trip-hop (“How’s That”) and glacial post-dubstep (“Papi Pacify” and “Water Me”) being pulled into a highly creative and engrossing EP. There are elements of industrial music here (most notably smack-dab in the middle of “Ultraviolet”), elements of trap (in the drums and hats on the aforementioned “Ultraviolet”), and even elements of reggae and Caribbean music.
To summarize “EP2”’s appeal would be to short-sell so many of its positive attributes, but many of them boil down to just how refined the release is. The brevity and depth of the lyrics put James Blake’s debut to shame, while the production shows up anything that 40, Illangelo or Geoff Barrow have done in years. The presentation of this EP, from the videos to the track sequencing, feels extremely well-planned, and when judged just on its own merit, the EP delivers. This EP is a bold statement of FKA twigs as an artist and, hopefully, she’ll bring all this and more on her debut.