It’s often strange when a much-anticipated album by a strongly heralded new artist finally arrives. Often the lead up is long, protracted and exhausting, the artist has been pushed, prodded and promoted by labels, pluggers, media and the attendant hype machine until the actual album is met with a shrug of indifference, the hyper speed 21st century musical world has moved on to the next big thing. This is not a fate that should befall Thaliah Barnett aka FKA twigs.
Since her first releases in 2012, FKA twigs has quietly and subtly cultivated a beguiling mystique. Everyone knows what she looks like; she is not mysterious in the sense of an obscured anonymous producer. Indeed, she is recognisable to many as a backing dancer in videos by artists including Jessie J, a soul crushing experience that surely informs some of the themes of her bewitching work. Rather, nobody quite knows who she is and where this slow, sensual and icily seductive robotic RnB music comes from. Everything about FKA twigs is darkly alluring. As such, her debut album, the rather prosaically named LP1 reveals tiny slivers about her character and persona while leaving the listener subtly enthralled and entranced.
LP1 is a debut that introduces twigs’ weirded out take on the kind of slow burning electronic music that has been rather popular over the last few years with artists like James Blake, Jessy Lanza and Jessie Ware. There’s something darker and stranger about her music though. Much of this is through the ever-interesting production. The album sounds unlike almost anything else. You simply cannot follow the glitches, skips and stutters mixed with gaseous, vaporous flutters of synthesisers, the undulating nature of the sounds leaves you slightly discombobulated. What’s left is a feeling of helplessness, as you end up giving yourself up to this oblique and fascinating music. Of course, as spellbinding as these soft focus backing tracks are what’s even more special and provides the dominant tone throughout is twigs’ own swooping and gliding voice. It’s not a typical RnB soul voice. On a song like the glorious Pendulum she has more in common with the shimmering voice of Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser. Twigs’ ability to deftly change her tone and cadence really makes this record special. Interesting production tricks are nothing without the hook of a strong voice. FKA twigs certainly recognises this.
The songs themselves are characterised by a strong feeling of carnal desire coupled with a rippling vulnerability. At times, she is strident and provocative as on the stunning Two Weeks’ invitation to leave a sexless, cold relationship in favour of giving yourself into her charms: “You know I’d quench that thirst” she sings before proclaiming, “I can fuck you better than her.” It’s a welcome reversal from the typical sexual bragging that you might here from an artist like The Weeknd. It’s also a theme repeated on the ghostly, breathy come on of Hours.
Elsewhere, songs like Video Girl, which describes her previous career as a backing dancer, deal with a bleak feeling of futility and helplessness. LP1 is certainly not an uplifting debut, a feeling exemplified on the dark pleading cry of numbers.
Over the course of the 10 tracks here FKA twigs often leaves you enraptured, however, what’s arguably even more promising is the sense that this fascinating artist can go in any sort of direction from here and achieve even greater heights. LP1 features a multitude of different producers and influences with contributions from Paul Epworth, Clams Casino, and Sampha amongst others. It’s remarkable the album sounds so cohesive and richly defined. That’s a testament to FKA twigs’ captivating persona; this is definitely a case of the slow build paying off hugely.