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Right now I'm thinking Tahliah Barnett might be a ghost, or an extra-terrestrial, or possibly a mythical goddess sculpted from the pages of Holy Scripture. It has something to do with her slender physique, spooky trip-hop backbeats and the sensual futuristic R&B, but it's more about how listeners might find themselves diving into the luminous fog of Barnett's music - only to pass right through to the other side, as if they've just had an outer-body experience.
There are musicians that arrive fully formed on the scene, with a natural sound satisfying a need the audience didn't know they had to begin with - and then you have an artist like Barnett, who fills a distinct void. Forgive the hyperbole, but her talent is astounding.
Five tracks into her debut album LP1, as FKA Twigs, comes a song called 'Pendulum'. "So lonely trying to be yours, when you're looking for so much more," she sings, over a distorted R&B backing, lent a hint of discomfort by the dense and claustrophobic drum arrangement. It's a narrative about the power struggles in relationships where she explores the human desire and how its enhanced when a lover strays - but it could also describe this artists' promo campaign. Barnett's press model has always been nothing short of a tease; she's got a knack for giving us just enough to whet the appetite, so it's fitting when she asks, "How does it feel to have me thinking about you?"
Despite living with this album (for the most part on a daily basis) for well over two weeks, big lumps of it do little to introduce themselves to the logical idioms of the brain - a testament to her skill as a songwriter. Instead, like the scent your partner might leave on the pillow, it lodges itself right into the emotional center of the mind creating a mood that stays long after the 10 tracks are over. You can't help but feel seduced listening to it. Her magnetism glows and cleaves every emotion right down to the bone, and the lyrics wrap around the ear as a tongue would to a lover. In the track 'Hours', when her honest declaration of, "I could kiss you for hours" unravels into its tender lament, the final impact of these sentiments come clean and clear. There's both sadness and loneliness here, but it captures Barnett nailing herself to the proverbial cross of self-martyrdom. Throughout the album her refreshing confessionals feel marginally biblical.
The first words we hear her sing and the songs that follow from then on catalogue her various ploys to get under your skin. The first track, 'Preface', akin to its name, hits a dynamic, machine fuelled electronic riff - full of weight and suggestion that the album's just about to offer something a heck of a lot more euphonic at any second. Barnett recently mentioned in an interview with Pitchfork that she's quoting the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt when she sings, "I love another, and thus I hate myself" which works as the album's subtitle. It's no surprise that the next line of his poem reads, "I feed me in sorrow and laugh in all my pain," because an album showing only unrelenting agony and seductive melancholy can't possibly succeed as well as one where the mood changes constantly - LP1 flows and ebbs.
This album operates as an introductory sketch of Barnett's aberrant style of impressionist narration - it captures material from a gradually shifting perspective that often sees her switching between two vantage points: dominant and passive. There is no urge to provide us with every single detail, or over-describe certain scenarios - no unflinching desire to rip too much flesh off the bone or put extra salt on the wound.
She travels between those two R&B archetypes - the tender woman and the scorned lover and re-imagines them in a back and forth dance. From open-heart surgery confessionals on 'Lights On', to gentle reaffirmations during 'Two Weeks', to sensual posturing in the slow-burning R&B track 'Hours', Barnett shows us a skilful high-wire balancing act between serving as the album's emotional center and suspending herself into the textural detail; by the end of 'Closer', her vocal incantation becomes the song's click track and it sounds positively alien-like.
Then again, it's that combo and synthesis of heavy rhythms with a lust for delicacy and intimacy, that makes Barnett an innovative and paradoxical writer. 'Video Gir'l is half Aaliyah, half-Portishead. Some of this album sounds like Massive Attack or James Blake and some of it sounds like Sade and D'Angelo. There's a verse in 'Kicks' when Barnett steps into the singer-songwriter spotlight, "I love my touch, know just what to do, so I tell myself it's cool to get my kicks like you." She's so determined to express herself that she forgets the idea is not to over share, but instead implores a sense of realism that's so brutal it becomes erotic, she continues, "I just touch myself and say, I'll make my own damn way."
These are her most ornate batch of songs to date, exposing direct and identifiable lyrics, not to say they're completely recognisable the entire time - similar to 'Ultraviolet' on EP2, there's still the feeling she isn't willing to let the audience get too near to her discontent. This level of discreet works and she manages to wedge herself in that comfortable spot between sensuous and sinister, which means that Barnett has upped her emotional and structural accessibility in just a matter of months. These tracks explore cynicism and satisfaction, vexation and vulnerability with more imaginative musical compositions than ever before.
The most striking element is always the bass, swelling up and throbbing like a ruthless headache and burning like a merciless heartache. The rolling drum meter that underpins 'Two Weeks', is quintessential FKA Twigs, it vibrates driving each verse like a pulse beating through the blood stream. Songs like 'Video Girl' are so complex they threaten to collapse under the weight of their own song-scaffolding, but manage to hold themselves together perfectly. The faint angular guitar playing that echoes during 'Closer', arrives in a few short bursts throughout the song, transforming it into a set of disparate elements that work together - a key theory of future-R&B that space-age-y quality meshed with progressive rock tics introduced into a song to soften the harsh beats. Like the roots of a tree - FKA Twigs' production has pulsating nerves that encircle throughout every song.
She possesses a voice with an aching timbre that finds her anxiously exposed, but sounding perfectly at home in a gloomy down-tempo ambience. Her ability to go from hushed whispers to piercing operatic trills without labouring much over the transition makes her seem like an artist unable to reach the end of a track without proving that she is, in some way, beyond human.
She operates within A Venn diagram of honest opening lines, palpable vocal inflections and confessional harmonies: she starts 'Two Weeks' with the line, "I know it hurts", says the word "craving" on 'Video Girl' so descriptively you can almost taste her desire and asks "Who is she" beneath the shadows set by each verse during 'Kicks', not to mention the, "I can fuck you better", on 'Two Weeks'. She's not accusing or undermining anyone, these are songs about the raw ecstasy of sex ("My thighs are apart for when you're ready to breathe in") the dripping nature of lust ("Suck me up, I'm healing with all the shit you're dealing") interwoven throughout the subtlety of her bewitching commands ("Motherfucker, get your open, you know you're mine")
If FKA Twigs' two year musical progress had to be mapped out according to the stages of human attraction, it would go like this: EP1, the first de-flowering of lust and intrigue felt, but not completely understood. EP2, the charge into experimenting the sexual terrain signified by curiosity and comfort, leaving LP1 fulfilling the role of both narcissism and commitment. She's here for the long haul.
More than anything this feels universally appealing. You don't have to be a strict devotee of the R&B underground genre to realise that this is a great album. The sound is her own, and she's capable of making an album work as an album rather than just a collection of songs - LP1 flows beautifully it's free of those jarring collaborations and semi-high profile guest appearances we've become accustomed to hearing. I've never been sure as to what it takes to make a record live-friendly and suitable for home listening, the kind you can play five times in a row without any part of it wearing out its welcome, but there's something ineffable about this and whatever that quality is - FKA Twigs has it.
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405 Reader Russell Chap submitted this review on Thursday, 25th September. He decided to give the album a 8/10 rating. As is the case with all user-submitted reviews, nothing has been edited.
Sensual and dense with detail. FKA Twigs' début, LP1, is an erotic and sensual delight, but with dark shadows lurking within the margins and under the surface. At times it is a suffocating experience, like perfume as poison, being smothered by silk cushions or engulfed by eroticism.
The music here in is heady and bloodless R&B. There are no sweaty sheets or stains, this isn't bump 'n' grind. It's more ethereal or ghostly. At times it is hard to think of this is R&B at all. You could call it ambient R&B.
LP1 at first listen is a bit underwhelming, each track appears to revolve around a similar collection of motives and ideas, it is only after a few more listens that the nuances of Twigs sound palette reveal themselves. Then you hear so many beautiful details and texture. A classic grower in other words. Lyrically LP1 seems to be about surrendering to the erotic, seeking sexual healing, filling a empty ache, a hole in the soul. Twigs giving and receiving solace.
"I know it hurts/You know I'd quench that thirst/(I can treat you better than them)/You say you're lonely/I say you'll think about it/Cause you're the only/One who resonates that chaste, mouth open like (High)." Two Weeks.
405 Reader Dylan Jenkins submitted this review on Wednesday, 30th July. He decided to give the album a 9/10 rating. As is the case with all user-submitted reviews, nothing has been edited.
The most immediately noticeable (and perhaps, most important) quality to FKA twigs' music is her uncompromising look into both, sensuality and sexuality. Both in her lyrical content, and even her production (where Massive Attack's black-heartedness meets Flying Lotus' experimentation and Wonky erraticism), there's simply no escaping the fact that twigs makes incredibly intimate music, and she's refreshingly self-authoritative when addressing her own emotional desiderata. While EP was promising enough, it was EP2 that built my excitement leading up to LP1. Although EP2 had fulfilled some of her promise already, it only made me anticipate this album even more, to the point where there wasn't a single album I anticipated more, this year, and...
It delivers so, so much.
Don't take her blunt embrace of sensuality as literal confidence, though. Lyrically, LP1 not only delves into lust and devotion, but how lust and devotion can effectively ruin your sense of self. "I love another, and thus I hate myself" is, according to twigs, the album's subtitle, and also the lyrics sung on the Preface of this album. Throughout LP1, twigs obscures and warps her own voice to shed light on this loss of identity. In the lead single, 'Two Weeks', twigs initially comes across as assertive, even dominant. But what makes this song eerie is how it eventually it becomes evident that this is a song about insecurity; about feeling uncertain if someone's connection (emotionally, physically, all of it) is inferior to the one who came before. It's through the line, "Pull out the insides and give me two weeks/you won’t recognize her" that this meaning becomes the most evident.
There are other tracks that point to this ('Kicks', 'Pendulum', 'Give Up'), as well as perhaps the only track that feels like a genuine love song, 'Lights On', but it's 'Video Girl' where identity isn't simply sacrificed in the name of affection, but something twigs tries to escape altogether.
Twigs first made her career as a backup dancer in videos for hits by many pop stars, but most notably, Jessie J. The video for 'Price Tag' was the video that featured her the most prominently, and on 'Video Girl', she's ultimately content with leaving her past semi-fame behind, to the point of denying her involvement with such projects when a passerby recognizes her.
LP1 is a quite personal album, not only because of its subject matter, but because twigs had a hand in every aspect in this album's creation. I wish I had some sort of confirmation, but I believe she handled the majority of the production herself. Arca's great. I love Arca! But these instrumentals are even brighter, punchier, more complex and ultimately, more ambitious than even his work on EP2. This decision to self-produce was an incredibly brave choice, and seeing twigs pull it off with such ease against her vocal work (which is... perfection) is all the more mesmerizing.
So rejoice! FKA twigs' LP1 is a stunning, mind-bending marvel of an album. The future of Alternative R&B looks pretty damn bright at the moment, and now, twigs has taken over being the one carrying its torch. And why shouldn't she? She's easily the most innovative, ambitious and hardest working amongst her peers, and so far, has made my favorite album in this subgenre.
Can't wait for LP2.