FKA twigs - LP1

Tahliah Barnett was a dancer before she was a singer, and that matters. Dancers learn ways to inhabit music differently, to physically respond to it, to internalize it and make it a part of their body chemistry. And Barnett was a serious dancer, one who went to school for it and who used to make her living working in the background in various pop stars’ videos. (“Video Girl,” a song from her LP1, is about the experience of being recognized as “the girl from the video” and denying that it’s her.) As FKA twigs, Barnett sings like a dancer. That’s not a knock on her pure vocal ability, which is no joke. Twigs isn’t a belter, but she knows what to do with the thinness of her voice, turning her sighs into coos and her coos into wails. But when I say that she sings like a dancer, I mean she doesn’t just sing over the top of her tracks. She wraps herself in them, disappearing into them. She comes up with subtle counter-rhythms, interrupts herself, hold exhalations until they become notes. Her music takes elements of dance music — drums, synths, open space — but it arranges them in counterintutive ways, unfurling into thickets of sound rather just thumping. Those backing tracks aren’t beats. They’re something else. It takes a special kind of dancer to know what to do with tracks like that, and it takes a special kind of singer to bring them to life. Twigs is both of those things.

On LP1, her first full-length, twigs does things with her voice that sound like physical movements: short leaps, slow pirouettes, stuttering kicks. And she’s singing about physical things, her words evoking intertwining bodies in some evocatively concrete ways: “My thighs are apart for when you’re ready to breathe in.” But this is interior music, music about living inside your own head. Most of the songs are about longing, about the point where the desire for intimacy stops being a craving and starts being a physical need. Even “Two Weeks,” the one where she’s straightforwardly asking someone to leave a lover behind — “I can fuck you better than her,” “I know a thousand ways to help you forget about her” — she’s imagining the conversation, not actually having it, as the great Jessica Hopper points out in her Wondering Sound review. The whole song seems like the result of a weeded-out daydream: “Higher than a motherfucker, dreaming of you as my lover.” It’s not clear whether she’d actually talk to another person like this. And most of the time, she’s not even dreaming about those connections; she’s lamenting them when they’re gone (“Was I just a number to you”) or lamenting the idea that she’ll never find them (“So lonely trying to be yours”). And so the album is a knowing conundrum, an intimate and instinctive and sexy piece of music about how impossible it can be for two people to find any real connection.

Musically, it’s hard to even describe what’s happening on LP1, let alone explain it. The songs have a central pulse to them that feels as natural as breathing, but you don’t hear the rhythm in the drums; you hear it in the bass, or they synths, or the way twigs breathes. The drums echo in from every direction, sounding more like dub-reggae sound effects than like mechanisms for keeping time. Meanwhile, keyboards and voices layer all over each other, creating disorienting fogs. You can get totally lost in your own thoughts listening to these tracks. They seem to fold in on themselves, to make linear thinking difficult. At times, the album feels like some lost artifact from a lost alternate-universe 1996, one where Portishead’s Beth Gibbons made a whole album with Richard D. James Album-era Aphex Twin. A song like “Pendulum” works as a sad and beautiful and lonely ballad in a lot of ways, but these clusters of electronic percussion keep erupting and rippling and bursting in out of nowhere, fighting against the flow of the song rather than aiding it; in a lot of ways, it reminds me of Aphex’s “Bucephalus Bouncing Ball,” if some mad scientist had turned it into a torch song. In this case, though, there’s no single producer playing Aphex to twigs’ Gibbons. The album has a lot of producers working on it — internet-cool synthesists like Arca and Clams Casino, big-pop ones like Adele collaborator Paul Epworth or Lana Del Rey collaborator Emile Haynie. But listening to the album, you don’t really hear any of those producers’ sonic signatures; all the tracks fold seamlessly into twigs’ soundworld. She seems to be the one with all the agency, and everyone else comes off like a hired hand, just there to help her actualize her vision.

There are two singers, Aaliyah and Björk, whose names come up in every LP1 review, and both are helpful, to an extent. Like Aaliah, twigs conveys sex and longing through poise and restraint and timing rather than through loud exhortations or showy technical displays. And like Björk, she’s created her entire universe, one that moves her outside any outmoded body/mind or thought/feeling binaries. But twigs also has a precise, distinctly British locution that reminds me of ’80s art-pop types like Kate Bush or Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis. And the ease with which she negotiates these tricky, futuristic, altogether alien tracks recalls early Missy Elliott, casually talking shit over otherworldly Timbaland beats as if that were the most natural thing in the world. All of those comparisons get at little things she does, shades of her style, but none of them is quite right. That because twigs really sounds like nobody else and belongs to no genre. With LP1, she’s put together a glittering, emotionally cathartic, musically weird-as-fuck gem, an album that lingers, in part, because it does things we’ve never quite heard.

LP1 is out now on Young Turks. Stream it at iTunes.

Other albums of note out this week:

• Mirel Wagner’s beautiful Luomo-produced folk seance When The Cellar Children See The Light Of Day.
• The Gaslight Anthem’s waterfall-chasing Get Hurt.
• The Underachievers’ hazy, psychedelic rap debut The Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium.
• Porter Robinson’s dubstep-pop move Worlds.
• FaltyDL’s horny electronic album In The Wild.
• Dama/Libra’s ghostly, droning Claw.
• The Silver State’s soft psychedelic reverie Outside.
• Childhood’s jangly, nostalgic Lacuna.
• Porches. side project Rivergazer’s evocatively jammy Random Nostalgia.
• Sinéad O’Connor’s reliably tough I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss.
• The dance-heavy soundtrack to the Hohokum video game.
• Operators’ EP1 EP.
• Coral Cross’s 001 EP.
• The Partysquad’s Wake ’M Up EP.

Comments (45)
  1. What, no Kix?

  2. “I love another and thus I hate myself”

    Possibly the best and most apt opening line of any album I’ve heard this year. Such a wonderful piece of work.

  3. This album is like the second coming of Homogenic-era Bjork at times. So so good.

    • I get what you mean, a bit like Homogenic meets Aaliyah at times.

      • “Homogenic” is my favorite album of all time, so I don’t take that comparison lightly… but I do agree. As a vocalist and songwriter she’s not on the level that Bjork was at her peak, but in terms of the epic, futuristic production and the cohesiveness of the sound, “Homogenic” is a sensible comparison. As a vocalist she *does* remind me of Aaliyah for how she switches between the sultry lows and the higher parts of her head voice. But at their best I think both Bjork and Aaliyah were capable of an emotional directness that twigs music seems intentionally to evade. “Pendulum” strikes me as the exception to that – when she says “trying to be yours / what a forsaken cause” her desperation is palpable.

        On the whole, an extraordinary debut. I see many plays for LP1 in my future, though I am already excited to think about where she’ll go next.

    • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  4. Pretty sure we all wanted Kix again. OWWWOOOOOOOOO!

  5. Obvious pick but we must give Sinead props… aint no Lion and the Cobra, but for the first time in 20 years, there was some slight inspiration from it.

  6. Things have clearly got so bad for The Gaslight Anthem they don’t even get a mention in the roundup of other albums out this week!

  7. This album has some of the most incredibly beautiful moments on it and is so good, but I found it a little tough to get through in a single listen. By the back end of the album I felt her voice lost what made it so interesting at the start and it started feeling like a chore to listen to. That said, the production was spectacular throughout. Really kept me from getting too comfortable, which I think is absolutely necessary for this kind of art-R&B.

    Also, Two Weeks just does not do it for me, but Pendulum, Numbers, and Lights Out are spectacular and more than make up for it.

    • I agree. It is a very pretty album that has some downright outstanding moments but I think the production carries some of these songs. It is certainly an album that takes some time, so I’m not ready to pass judgement on it. It is good but I’m not sure I’m ready to call it great.

    • Couldn’t agree more. It’s an “interesting” listen, but not particularly a fun one, and it definitely starts to wear you down by the latter half. Really compelling stuff, but I wish there were a few more tracks like “Two Weeks” for balance.

  8. Anybody else get the strong urge to make out with someone while listening to this record?

    I’m sure listening to “Hours” has something to do with it (shout outs to Dev Hynes & Clams Casino for co-production on that one). Additionally, I only enjoy listening to this album at night. Must be the Portishead vibe.

    I think James Blake is another apt comparison for the production. Wouldn’t mind hearing twigs and Mr. Blake pair up.

    • I wouldn’t say making out is my immediate reaction. The album’s pretty sensual, but not exactly in a pleasant way. A lot of it kind of makes me feel dirty…like a better sounding Weeknd record.

      Also, I didn’t know Hynes had production on “Hours”…you can hear Clammy Clams a bit, but I didn’t hear any typical Blood Orange type production.

      • Here’s a link to who produced what: (Clams Casino tweeted that out with a shout out to Dev Hynes).

        I think not hearing any typical trade marks of the producers involved is one of the impressive features of LP1. There’s no way I could’ve figured out Paul Epworth produced “Pendulum” without someone telling me. As for Dev & Clams, “No Right Thing” from “Cupid Deluxe” had additional production by Clammy Clams but there’s no way I would’ve known. It sounds more like a typical Blood Orange production.

        I feel you on The Weeknd comparison. You and Marlina definitely have this album pegged right in the “uncomfortably sexy” description. I guess I was picking up on that, but clouded by this urge to be with someone else while listening to it… and doing stuff.

        • Interesting not to see Arca in the credits. Almost every article I’ve read about LP1 mentioned that he had a sizable role in creating the album…

          • You are correct. “Lights On” and “Give Up” were with Arca. That article didn’t mention it. Wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few other specifics left out, but it’s pretty close to correct. Good catch.

    • I get the strong urge to break it down like this

  9. To me, LP 1 is uncomfortably sexy. I think twigs conveys that here and that is not necessarily a bad thing. It is distinctly different, disturbingly cool. Good job, twigs.

  10. But what does Garrett White think?

  11. I’m still wrapping my head around all the textures and subtleties on this record. At first I thought it was just another one of those records begging to be good but falling short but the more I listen to it the more I get sucked into the world Twigs is creating here. This is a great record to sort of get lost in too and will be on steady repeat on long nights or really just anytime I have the opportunity to escape the pressure of having a long list of things to do. I have to say though, the record cover is absolutely beautiful. I wish there was a list of the best album covers of 2014 cause this one just mesmerizes me and draws me in much like the music does. Its begging to be framed much like its begging to be absorbed.

    Special shout out to Black Wine, a Don Giovanni band, for putting out a very solid indie rock record this week. Its solid in a way that there isn’t a bad song through the whole record and its soaked with 90′s indie rock influences. I think it was my initial pick for this week but Twigs is demanding my attention and winning.

  12. “Pendulum” is impossibly good!

  13. This is the obvious pick, but is anyone else really enjoying that Underachievers record? I think they still have a way to go in terms of making their mark, but the album is enjoyable anyway. Drugged-out, hazy spitfire raps.

  14. I am still figuring out how I feel about this record, but that cover is certainly burned into my brain more than any other so far this year.

  15. I’m glad that I went back and read that whole Kix thread. I haven’t been on here in about a week. Now I don’t want to leave.

  16. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • What makes you so certain that she’s not in control? “How did this album end up sounding like it was all produced by one person?” Because one person was at the helm and it was FKA twigs.

  17. Wow. This is going to have a real fight with ‘Lost in the Dream’ and ‘Present Tense’ for my AoTY I think.

    She’s really nailed the slinky, sultry liquidity that I liked in ‘Water Me’. Obviously the first listen didn’t do the record justice, but every time I listen through a different track stands out as my favourite. Right now it’s ‘Closer’.

    Gotta say the first paragraph of this review is remarkably well written; rarely does a review so exactly pinpoint the qualities and form of music so concisely.

    • Completely agree with you. Im gonna add Singles in there too. But these are my top 4 so far. Happy to see the Present Tense love

      • Seeing Wild Beasts live sent “Present Tense” over the top for me. Contrasted with their old songs, it was obvious to tell it’s some of their best work to date.

        • Seen them twice this year; the old stuff actually holds up better live but they really outdid themselves on the new record.

          • After posting, I realized that could’ve come across as me dissing their old stuff.

            Watching Tom perform “All The King’s Men” was a delight and I got teary eyed hearing “End Come Too Soon” (my favorite WB song). But seeing them pull off song’s like “A Dog’s Life” / “Sweet Spot” and “Daughters” live were really impressive.

            It was my first time ever seeing them live, so it was just an overwhelming experience in general. Especially closing with my favorite song of theirs that I DID NOT think they would play. Such a delight it is to see those four chaps live.

  18. Definitely the obvious choice for AotW, but damn if it’s not deserving. Every time I listen to her music I find myself discovering mind-blowing details: on like my 20th (give or take) listen to “Two Weeks” I realized that the slightly creepy pitch-shifted chant that opens the track is the “Higher than a motherfucker / Dreaming of you as my lover” lyric (albeit distorted), and then shortly thereafter finally noticed that definitely creepy “Pull out the incisor” bit she somehow smuggles into a pop chorus. Listening to “Lights On” now I realize the ending part is (or at least sounds very much like) a car alarm. “Numbers” might be the most interesting use of footwork’s tropes in pop music I’ve ever heard, and highlights twigs’ mastery of atmosphere; she sounds legitimately terrifying in that song and she doesn’t even have to talk about tooth-pulling, or even issue a threat. “Closer” might be my favorite so far. “Kicks,” “Lights On,” “Video Girl,” and “Give Up” are also pretty damn good. “Two Weeks” is kind of hard to beat though.

    All in all, it’s nice to have this, and Porter Robinson’s Worlds, and a revisit to Boards of Canada’s Music Has a Right to Children to take my mind off what has otherwise been a really depressing week.

  19. I can appreciate the talent, originality, and creativity in this, but it just isn’t connecting with me for whatever reason. Not my cup of tea I suppose.

  20. I appreciate her work. Just not my taste. I find the sounds and dancing distracting in that…it’s almost like she wants you to perceive it as mesmerizing………when what she’s SAYING/SINGING is very simple. There’s just some…abstract art trying to cover up what everyone’s heard, over and over again. I see it as a failed attempt to be different.

    I can plainly see she is a dancer turned singer. And if she’s trying to differentiate herself from that….well, she’s doing the opposite.

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