Review Summary: Oh dear god. Aaliyah’s been reincarnated, and improved upon.
FKA twigs really outdid herself. When I first heard her on EP, I was convinced of her talents but wasn’t sold on her cadence--as a performer she seemed to rely too heavily on the baby-faced tropes of contemporaries like Lana Del Rey. On EP2 I was a bit more thoroughly convinced. Songs like “Papi Pacify” and “How’s That” helped to paint a picture of the full-scope of her troubled relationships, tethering tangible emotions to ethereal production and other-worldly vocals. Now, as LP1 sits in my music library, I have to say that she’s exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations. With LP1, FKA twigs joins the ranks of such acts as The xx, James Blake and Flying Lotus, crafting a near-classic of an album that wholly and unequivocally makes the most of electronic minimalism to evoke unbridled emotion.
One of the most interesting things about LP1 is the production. Rickety and ethereal, the tracks rarely explode, with single “Two Weeks” being the obvious exception. The sounds are evocative, never feeling out of place or superfluous. Album standout “Pendulum” especially exemplifies this, its quiet chorus hitting harder than any bombastic pop chorus. The approach mirrors UK contemporary James Blake, with the entire sonic texture of the album evoking his classic debut. The vocal modulation, cavernous bass and icy synths all recall songs like “The Wilhelm Scream” and “Unluck,” while simultaneously packing a harder emotional punch.
The first track on the album is a bit of a gut-punch. The song begins with vocals that evoke Grimes and then descend into sludgy vocal samples and trap-inflected drum sequencing. The intro is far more menacing than anything off any deathmetal or hip-hop album of this year, and it’s perfectly contrasted by the jarring switch to the sensual “Lights On.” The track is almost Weeknd-esque in its eroticism, but delivered with a sensuality that the robotic sex of “Kiss Land” and “King of the Fall” lack. The track is the first straight slow-jam of Twigs’ career that doesn’t bring with it some kind of emotional torment, and it’s a wonderful testimony to her lyrical prowess and production know-how. The dynamic shift between this song and “Preface” is nothing short of masterful, and serves as a brilliant precursor to the rest of the album. Later a similarly jarring experience is formed in the transition from the relatively jubilant “Two Weeks” into the dark post-dubstep of “Hours.” And let’s talk about “Two Weeks” for a moment; the song’s perfect. Tastefully explicit and immaculately produced, the song served as the perfect single to the album and also marks a clear highlight. Oscillating synths and evocative harmonies makes the track sound literally like gold. It strikes the perfect balance between pop dynamism and the album’s Spartan minimalism. And “Hours” itself is brilliant; quietly devastating in its astral production and melancholy delivery, the song brings to mind all sorts of forebearers yet sounds unique. These songs and “Pendulum” make for the album’s single best run of songs, with every bit of it being perfect.
And the train of perfect post-dubstep pop perfection doesn’t stop there: “Video Girl,” “Give Up” and “Closer” all pack similarly intricate balances, and all of them succeed in the best kind of way. “Kicks,” the album closer, is equal parts Kate Bush and Bjork, with a perfectly danceable beat and milky bass punctuating a vocal melody that would go big on any R&B station while still maintaining integrity. “Numbers” channels latter-day Portishead as Barnett sings “was I just a number to you"” over a weird stop-start R&B track that’s equal parts Timbaland and James Blake (it’s the wonky synths and modulation). The synths that break into the bridge are pure-Blake—whirring and buzzing yet still not violent. The chorus sounds like something you’d hear on a ‘90s urban contemporary station, with the subtle harmonies evoking R&B-pop stars of yore like Aaliyah and Erykah Badu. “Closer” seamlessly begins where its predecessor starts off, taking its asymmetric grove and weaving a song that’s the most reminscient of twigs’ previous work. The vocal harmonies are straight off of “Water Me,” while the heavily melancholy instrumental brings to mind Arca’s work on EP2. Yet “Closer” succeeds in a way that “Water Me” did not by genuinely destroying you in its abstractions, settling for evocation over direct address. “Give Up” is the most straight pop track on the album, even more so than “Two Weeks.” Tahliah’s vocals throughout the song sound like fellow R&B songstress Tinashe, while the vaguely trap-influenced production confirms the comparison. And while this isn’t a Mustard beat by any means (ho), the song still bangs. The sub-bass kicks hit hard while the subtle emphasis on the word “away” gives the song a hazy sexuality.
And that’s a fair assessment of the album in its totality. Even on the most emotionally despondent and void parts of the album (like singles “Two Weeks” and “Pendulum”) there’s still a vague sensuality, a hazy sexuality, which gives the songs a cohesion and a strength unlike anything else this year. Two of twigs’ closest contemporaries—Tinashe and Banks—will be releasing new albums this year. But based of their recent output (“2 On” and “Beggin’ for Thread”), none of them will compare to riveting and unconscionable beauty of FKA twigs’ debut. LP1 elevates FKA twigs above those artists and many others, putting her on the level of some of the current music generations most innovative. Let’s hope she can stay there.