Well, the mystery is over at last. For a while there we had a bit of a “Who Is FKA Twigs?” thing going on, a layer of anonymity to add to the innate mystery of the music that had appeared on last year’s two EPs, which were given the not-so-mysterious names EP1 and EP2. Now we know that FKA Twigs is the stage name of Tahliah Barnett, a 26-year-old English woman who was a backing dancer for Jessie J for a brief period. So now that the brief, mildly diverting subplot of her identity is solved, all we have left is the debut album, again released on Young Turks and named (you guessed it) LP1.
In addition to the naming structure, a few other elements remain unchanged as well. The presence of red-hot producers such as Arca has made sure that this is an impeccably produced album (although Barnett apparently oversaw the entire recording). Barnett herself manages to avoid excess completely, her voice a model of restraint that is used as much as a textural instrument as it is as a leading element in these ten songs. The album is also completely admirable in being such a singular piece of work. Flawed perhaps, but also unlike anything else out there right now. When you consider the spate of “indie R&B” albums over the last few years, that’s quite an achievement.
The best of the music here merges forward-thinking production with earthy, gritty lyrics full of soul and lust and frustration. It is a decidedly human record despite some otherworldly backdrops. When it all comes together, the effect can be stunning. “Lights On” has a fairly straightforward hook (not to mention a fairly direct lyric in “When I trust you, we can do it with the lights on,” which sets the album’s intimate feel), but the devil is in the details, the song fleshed out with an upright bass line, ambient textures, and unconventional percussion. “Hours” is barely there at times, but it has one of the album’s quirkiest and most alien hooks. “Video Girl” sees Barnett displaying another side to herself, one of jealousy and barely compressed rage, but wrapped in a soulful package.
The standout track is the one everyone has heard. “Two Weeks” is lyrically frank in a manner that is refreshingly grown-up, and the warm, pulsing synths that envelope the track, waxing and waning throughout, make the song hum with passion and life. The track features a warmth that is not always evident throughout the album. In pushing the production values so far left field, FKA Twigs ends up with some moments when things become a little shapeless or cold. This is particularly evident on “Numbers,” which lacks something more concrete to anchor the song.
For the most part, this is a quietly spectacular debut album, one that reveals its charms on repeat listens and has me reaching for that tired cliché “grower.” FKA Twigs comes with a fully thought-through visual and design aesthetic, which suggests that she is positioning herself as an outsider pop star in the mold of Kate Bush or Bjork, an antithesis to the vacuity of modern chart music and its slick, soulless production. LP1 is evidence of a singular vision and an artist deeply committed to her craft. The album is full enough to justify all the internet hype and to suggest that anonymity was never really an option. FKA Twigs glows a little too brightly to stay in the shadows.
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