Tuesday, 12 August 2014

FKA Twigs - LP1 Review

It is not uncommon for an upcoming artist to build interest through the release of an EP (or in this case, two EPs), especially in an age where technology is progressing at a frightening rate and artists tend to have a diminishing window of opportunity to make an impact and sustain a fanbase large enough to ensure longevity. But what is particularity astonishing about Tahliah Barnett's ascent to prominence is how she manages to captivate the internet by defying the norms of modern pop. Each track came accompanied by unique and stunning visuals which encapsulate the mood of the tracks whilst not detracting from the music itself. Her sound was always startlingly assured for such a newcomer to the game; rich in texture and brimming with off-kilter beats and sounds, she seemingly ripped apart any genre-specific labels the industry or media may have tried to impose on her. Suffice to say, Barnett has truly delivered a game-changing debut album which pushes all the boundaries whilst maintaining a considerably expansive reach.

Imagery is an integral part of Barnett's artistry; her visuals and sonics go hand in hand to create an experience for the listener/viewer, this enables them to feel even more connected to the music on a deeper level. Arguably one of the main reasons for the immense success of prior singles 'Water Me' and 'Papi Pacify' is the music videos which accompany them. They immerse the viewer in the concept of the song and bring new meaning to Barnett's lyrics. The artwork of LP1 (created by Jesse Kanda) itself is no exception to this; the cover art is a partially digital portrait of  Barnett is placed on a tranquil blue backdrop, representing the more ambient part of her sound whilst the quiet sense of longing on her face lends itself to the darker soundscapes in her music.

The album opens with 'Preface', which consists of one, very powerful lyric; "I love another and thus I hate myself", a quote from the 16th century poet Thomas Wyatt which I feel sums up the lyrical tone of the record to a tee. The notion of self-loathing induced through the love and undying devotion to another human being is a poignant one, this only reinforced by the throbbing basslines and punchy synths laced across the record. And then of course, there is her voice. And what a voice it is; from breathy and wispy coos to gutsy and rich cries, her vocal delivery is as colourful and dynamic as the production it juxtaposes. Despite its running time, it makes a huge impact on the listener and sets the tone perfectly, it oozes grandeur with every second, much like the lead single 'Two Weeks'. The latter is undoubtedly Twigs' most accessible song to date, plus it's a bona fide jam; the throbbing bass line, shuddering drum beats and spine tingling vocal delivery as well as the accompanying visuals take Twigs' regal aesthetic to the next level. The lyrics on the other hand are anything but, "Higher than a motha fucka, dreaming of you as my lova" are hardly the words of a queen, though the way said lyric is delivered evokes an overwhelming sense of empowerment, she is truly owning her sexuality here and it's awe-inspiring to witness.

You'd be foolish to even attempt to pigeonhole FKA Twigs; she does not belong in any old rigid genre structure, her sound created through the fusion of various styles and the intention is not to fall into any genre-specific category. Nobody I feel articulates this better than Barnett herself, in a recent interview with The Guardian, she said: "When I first released music and no one knew what I looked like, I would read comments like: 'I've never heard anything like this before, it's not in a genre.' And then my picture came out six months later, now she's an R&B singer." Essentially, because she's mixed race, people (the music press) rather carelessly class her as "Alt-R&B", because its easy and they don't care to look deeper into the music she creates, and that's a great shame. Barnett's genius is in the fact that she creates boundary-less and thought-provoking electronica with nods to chamber music, soul, trip-hop, along with avante-garde and ambient thrown in for good measure.

In that same interview Barnett also declares her love for "annoying sounds, beats, clicks. Kakakakaka", this is evident on many of the tracks on LP1. Take closing track for example; laced with haunting vocal samples and throbbing synths, 'Kicks' climaxes with a glitchy and unusually catchy breakdown which ends the album on a euphoric note. She also said [of the album] that "the structures aren't typical, it's relentless. It's like punk; fuck alternative R&B!", another statement I'd have to agree with, Barnett's sonic innovation in this record's production is certainly that. A prime example of this is the track 'Pendulum', which features Barnett's signature 'clicking'; though brittle, it is also unsettling and gives the track a subtle sense of menace. The track then opens up in the most mesmerizing and majestic of ways into an explosion of plush soundscapes as she coos "so lonely trying to be yours, when you're looking for so much more".

So as you may have gathered, I am pretty much infatuated with this record, but don't take my word for it; the world of FKA Twigs is ready and waiting to be delved into. But what I can offer you is the following advice: If new to Twigs, give it time (less than two weeks) and you will reap the rewards. If already accustomed to her artistry, you'll agree it's a masterpiece and want to marry it. And if none of the above don't apply, I simply do not know. I've listened to this record relentlessly and can assure you that there are no weak spots, each track is special and will become your favourite at one time or another, that's the beauty of it.


Standout Tracks: Two Weeks, Pendulum, Numbers, Closer, Give Up, Kicks

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