Review Summary: On FKA twigs' debut, she rides the fine line between traditional and progressive, compiling a highly accessible collection that pushes the envelope as to what should be conventional.
Often when pestered about my self-proclaimed erudite musical tastes by people who are ensnared by the mainstream, my first suggestion for future listening is FKA twigs. This is mostly due to twigs' diverse take on “pop” music which also happens to be highly accessible, creating a path between the tiresome repetition of the radio’s scant playlist and the ever-changing electronic music scene. My goal is to get people to understand that music often dismissed as weird or off-putting, tends to be the music that ends up being the most rewarding, opening new doors for their neglectful ears, after years of pandering them with the Adeles and Beyoncés of the world. (Granted, Lemonade is one of my guilty pleasures)
Sadly, people don’t often follow up, as the name FKA twigs (to a brainwashed radio-heads) sounds like I’m naming off some random underground electronic artist I dug up off from Bandcamp. Clearly, it’s their loss. To anyone who’s listened to her early “EP2” with Arca on production, or listened to the multi-genre “LP1”, or the glitchy, infectious “M3LLI55X” EP from last year, knows how much of a treat her music can be. Twigs has a product which sonically sells itself upon first listen; at this point she’s not an artist that is compared to others, but instead, an artist that soars above her contemporaries and is the artist by which others are compared too.
Trying to define twigs' sound is not an easy task. Today’s society is obsessed with trying to categorize everything, taking some of the magic away from the piece itself. Barnett (FKA twigs) has publicly rejected the labels of alternative R&B/R&B and suggested that this tag is attributed based off her mixed race. It’s not hard to see how alternative R&B is a generally a “safe” choice to use when describing her music, but it’s also one that only covers a tiny portion of the various genres blended into her sound. Take for instance the “Preface” track on this record, which sounds like a hymn paired with choppy head-bobbing percussion, until we get ambushed by an odd hip-hop sample, laid atop of a dissonant beat Arca would be proud of (FKA twigs produced this track).
One of the main talking points of this release is the undeniably lush production. Working with the likes of Arca, Clams Casino, Emile Haynie, Sampha, and even Blood Orange’s Hynes drops in for a track and Paul Epworth for another; you can’t go wrong with a line-up as such. Collaborating with Hynes, Haynie, Clams Casino and Arca on the track “Hours” concocts one of the year’s best produced songs. It has so many layers compacted into a small space, you become immersed in the watery synths, buzzing bass, and plenty of distorted and glitchy percussion to wrap it all up in an attractive package. I think you can even hear a cop siren thrown it at the end; you have to appreciate the little things.
Honestly, you could write a whole review dedicated to all that the producers add to this record, dropping in small additions that prove strangely fruitful like the car alarm toward the close of “Lights On” or all the zany percussion decorations like machine gun snare (Pendulum, Two Weeks), or the whimsical moments like in the chorus of “Numbers” (which is quite dark when you pay attention to the lyrics). Following the same idea of “Preface”, “Closer” also utilizes the hymn approach where Barnett’s floating vocals sound close to angelic church choirs but the beat engulfing her is much closer to trip hop than anything else.
Lyrically, the album isn’t as exciting as the beats surrounding them, yet not empty enough to be dismissed as garbage. On “Preface” she lays down a thesis for the album which is: ”I love another, and thus I hate myself.” This refers to when we’re perusing something or someone there’s a kind of self-loathing involved where we hate who we are and want to become something greater than that. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, just a step to growth. We follow Barnett as she battles with insecurities (“Lights On”, “Pendulum”, “Video Girl”), obsessively chasing after lovers (“Give Up”, “Hours”), and occasionally becoming hostile (“Numbers”).
When we reach the final number, “Kicks”, Barnett is perfectly satisfied with herself (masturbation). It’s almost like she’s been toying with us this whole time with a fake persona of an obsessive lover when really she’s been self-dependent and was only feigned her overzealous ways. After the release of “M3LLI55X”, she left little room for doubt that her next full-length project may likely tower over this one. Until that time comes, let’s all enjoy something that’s so complex on the surface yet naturally lovable, as if we’d been yearning for something like this all along.