Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Album review: FKA twigs' LP1

A debut record continues the growing trend of PBR&B -- intensely weird music mixing soul and avant-garde pop

Posted By on Tue, Aug 26, 2014 at 1:54 PM

click to enlarge twigs---facebook-avatar.jpg
Probably the most impressive thing about LP1, the debut from postmodern UK torch singer FKA twigs, is that it’s not entirely what it seems to be at first.

From the singer’s artsy-as-in-weird visual sensibility to her detached persona to her muted electronic sound palette to her fractured stage name, it’s extremely tempting to pin her down as a female answer to Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd. The Weeknd blew up in 2011 on the back of a trio of EP/mixtapes that stripped away most of the sonic and thematic glory of R&B as we’ve known it, replacing it with eerie distance and a focus on the uncanny over the sensual.

He was one of the first of a group of artists to head in that pan-racial, inward, electro-tinged direction, along with Frank Ocean, How to Dress Well, and most famously, Miguel. We’ve been in a bit of a dry spell for this emerging style (aside from maybe Top Dawg Entertainment’s SZA), and I love the stuff, so LP1 has been on pretty much constant repeat since it dropped on August 12.

And it does scratch the itch. Opening track “Preface” sounds like a wordless religious chant over a lurching microhouse beat, with robot voices and foggy car horns and disconnected tones lurking around in the background. Twigs (Facts: She’s called that because her bones crack, her real name is Tahliah Debrett Barnett, and she’s from Gloucestershire) has a tightly restrained presence, a voice that’s mostly small, wavering and slightly indifferent but in just the right way to intrigue.

The Weeknd used a similar kind of shadowy restraint to perform a semi-satire of the darkest corners of R&B, wryly commenting on the bacchanalian weirdness he chronicled. But FKA twigs’ vulnerability is much more genuine – you can tell she’s really showing herself when she sings about the imperfections and risks of love, how she “could kiss you for hours,” but with plenty of protective caveats. “You say you want me / I say you’ll live without / Unless you’re the only . . .”

So, really, FKA Twigs is bringing R&B full circle, actually a little less Grimes than Sade. There are still the alien, stop-start, Burial-esque backdrops, but they’re in tension with a real sense of hope and beauty. On a track like “Pendulum,” you can hear her pushing past the limits of self-consciousness into the wrenching admission that she’s “So lonely trying to be yours / when you’re looking for so much more.”

It’s not at all hard to imagine a full-on lost-love anthem in this mold hitting the radio within the next year or two. In fact, the only real question is whether it’ll FKA twigs herself who makes it, or whether someone will transplant her style into something a little more mainstream. That’s what happened when Drake took The Weeknd on board for tracks like “I’m On One,” and even if you, like me, are too much of a knee-jerk hipster to admit you can stomach anything Drake has ever touched, it’s hard to say that was a bad thing for music.

Critics' Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

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