Premature Evaluation

Premature Evaluation: FKA Twigs CAPRISONGS

Young/Atlantic
2022
Young/Atlantic
2022

“Hey, I made you a mixtape,” FKA Twigs coos conversationally at the start of CAPRISONGS. “Because when I feel you, I feel me. And when I feel me, it feels good.”

FKA Twigs is not one to half-ass anything. Up until now, the dancer-turned-pop star born Tahliah Barnett has been meticulous. Her first two albums, LP1 and MAGDALENE, have aged absurdly well, which can be attributed to how exacting Twigs’ creative process seems to be. Even her shorter releases, especially the M3LL155X EP, are hyper-focused and precise. There are no rough edges on FKA Twigs songs; they are pure force. She has often been perceived as an avatar for controlled power — the masterful MAGDALENE was about deconstructing that image, presenting her as someone capable of falling apart, though of course she fell apart in the most graceful and operatic way possible. Even when she’s in pieces, she does not let loose. But CAPRISONGS plays like a lesson in letting loose — or learning to “don’t think just go studio and create,” as she put it in the statement that announced her latest project. And when I feel me, it feels good, and CAPRISONGS is largely about feeling good and feeling more like yourself, whatever shape that might take.

“I’m still that mysterious bitch,” she continues in the intro. “‘Cause no one does it like I do (though they try)/ I keep on moving, keep on dancing/ For you.” CAPRISONGS is Twigs at her most laidback; it’s shaggier and more meandering than anything else that she has put out so far. There’s some connective tissue between CAPRISONGS and the pair of mixtapes that Charli XCX put out back in 2017 — two masters of their craft that came up around the same time and in the same pop climate branching out to create more carefree distillations of themselves. (There are even a couple songs, “meta angel” and “pamplemousse” in particular, that feel like nods to Charli’s sound.) But whereas Charli XCX was interested in making concentrated balls of energy with her mixtapes, Twigs is invested in using the medium as a way to shed some light on her music-making process.

Twigs executive produced the album alongside El Guincho, the veteran Spanish producer who has come to prominence in recent years as a close collaborator with Rosalía, and there are a lot of peeks into how they went about putting together these songs. Snippets of conversations from the studio filter in and out — “track girl interlude” sets up the Jorja Smith and Unknown T-featuring “darjeeling,” sort of like hearing the cutting room floor and the finished product side-by-side. Twigs and her collaborators talk to each other throughout. They reminisce and commiserate over past relationships, they build each other up, they poke fun at one another. There’s an entertaining bit when one of Twigs’ friends begs her to properly release a Dua Lipa collaboration that has so far only existed as a live performance video. “I’m tired of listening to it on YouTube,” they remark. “Please, Twigs, c’mon, make my wish come true.” (The song in question, “Why Don’t You Love Me,” is not on CAPRISONGS.)

There are more featured guests on CAPRISONGS than on any other Twigs project. The Weeknd, Daniel Caesar, Shygirl, Pa Salieu, Jorja Smith, and more all get time to shine. There are also a lot of people behind the boards, contributions from Koreless, Mike Dean, Arca, Fred again…, Sega Bodega, and many up-and-coming topline writers. FKA Twigs’ albums have always been precise and insular, regardless of how many names might be listed in the credits, but you can tell that there’s more of a “let’s see who’s down to mess around and let’s see what happens” energy to this mixtape. It’s more beat-forward than what she’s been doing recently — the baroque touches that populated MAGDALENE show up here and there, but it’s geared toward the dancefloor in a way that Twigs hasn’t been in a minute.

None of the songs are as immediately satisfying as Twigs’ best singles, but there are a whole lot of moments to like. “lightbeamers” is a highlight, with a tip-toeing backbone that gives way to a stuttering chorus: “Did you give yourself away again? Don’t don’t do it again, don’t don’t do it again.” There’s the trilling “meta angel,” where Twigs’ voice crackles into AutoTune as she talks about all the different voices in her head; the purring and icily intimidating “honda”; the brief but euphoric DYSTOPIA-featuring “which way,” a bright lights, big city moment that’s simply transcendent. On another short track, the La Croix-referencing “pamplemousse,” she descends into a delirious hyperpoppy blur. Advance single “tears in the club” sees Twigs teaming up with the Weeknd — timely after his well-received Dawn FM — for a consummate happy-but-sad banger. “papi bones” has Twigs and Shygirl joining forces for what sounds like a long-lost Rihanna demo in the best way. All of these songs represent Twigs stretching out her taffy-coated R&B into new and exciting directions, brief but potent ideas that lend themselves to the mixtape format.

But it’s no coincidence that those highs all come from from the first half of the mixtape. CAPRISONGS starts off strong but loses steam by the end, falling prey to the same disease as a lot of major label mixtapes in that it’s just too long. Clocking in at almost an hour, it’s longer than either of Twigs’ proper full-length albums. On the back half, there are a few songs (“careless,” “minds of men”) that are a little too precious and pretty, or ones that are less dynamic versions of what we’ve already heard (“jealousy,” “darjeeling”). The whole project would be served by being tighter in general — the talking interludes get kind of old, though they do at least provide some framework for the ideas behind the project. Twigs and her collaborators keep returning to soundbites about finding confidence in yourself, not letting yourself be taken for granted. “Each year, I’m like, I’m gonna own my shit,” one of those interstitials go. “And then each year I’m still so shy and so quiet. No, but this is the year. This is the year. Of greatness, of growth, of being free.”

The songs echo that desire. They’re all about finding out about new aspects of yourself when you least expect it — nowhere is that message more powerful than in the chirping chorus of “lightbeamers.” “Are you running from your life?/ Beat down ’cause there ain’t nobody on your side/ Tell yourself you love you so/ Lay down your fears/ Baby, ain’t nobody die from a no.” Though CAPRISONGS lacks the exactitude of FKA Twigs’ proper albums, as a lower stakes throat-clearing exercise, I can’t fault it for sounding a bit scattered. Sure, it’s not as focused as her best work, but there’s enough to latch onto to make it worthwhile. As Twigs has learned, sometimes it’s OK to just have some fun, and maybe in the process you discover something in yourself that you didn’t know was there before.

CAPRISONGS is out 1/14 via Young/Atlantic.

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