Recipient of much acclaim and even more discussion this year, FKA Twigs might be part of this supposedly modern mutant r’n’b thing that seems to be happening (possibly started by The Weeknd and pursued by How To Dress Well, in as much as these ‘things’ ever start anywhere identifiable), or she might be something else entirely. Let’s settle on something else entirely. If I’m reminded of other music (and I am, a little, although not that much) then it includes Julia Holter, Grimes, 4AD, and Radiohead’s post-electronic work rather than Whitney Houston or Beyonce or Maxwell. Which isn’t to say that one can’t detect similarities to those artists here; they’re just not the only, or even the main, reference points. Which is a clumsy and roundabout way of saying that FKA Twigs (from Gloucestershire, 26, former backing dancer for Ed Sheeran and Kylie Minogue) lives in that space between genres which so much post-broadband music inhabits.
FKA Twigs’ music also lives in another, more specific space; the space that surrounds sex between human adults. LP1 is… I’m hesitant to use the word ‘explicit’, but the eroticism and lust on display here are way beyond being implicit: “when I trust you we can do it with the lights on”; “I can fuck you better than her”; “my thighs are apart for when you’re ready to breathe in”. While not every song is quite this upfront and overtly sexual, there’s a strong tone and atmosphere that pervades the whole record. The fact that the final song is pretty explicitly about masturbation leaves little doubt that you’ve misinterpreted the mood.
This isn’t just titillation for the aural equivalent of the male gaze, though; although hearing female voices sing explicitly about sex and love from and for their own perspectives (rather than for a male audience) isn’t as rare as one might think (or as we’re lead to believe, possibly) (just this year we’ve heard St Vincent sing about masturbation, Karen O release an album called Crush Songs, and Tanya Tagaq release an extraordinarily sensual and political album dedicated to the missing and murdered aboriginal women of Canada), the sexuality on display here may well make men feel uncomfortable rather than aroused, and the emotions that accompany the actions described feel very much as if they’re coming from a female perspective rather than pandering to a male one. It’s intimate and private rather than exhibitionist, and every erotic action has an emotional fulcrum and fallout, even if not a motivation.
Likewise the musical content, although defiantly modern and sumptuous, is low-key and subtle, in terms of both melodies and beats; these are pop songs, but they’re not bangerz, and although there might be nods to multiple stripes of modern dance music there aren’t any crass drops in evidence, imbuing LP1 with both sophistication and intrigue.
Rob listened: I’ve been around the houses with LP1. I went through a phase of putting it on as background music, and in that role I found it very easy to reach for. I like the palette and the restraint. It’s nice. A nice sound. I tried to listen to it more closely a couple of times but it slipped out of my grasp. I found it an easy record to walk away from. Listening to it with with Tom and Nick, both of whom have already spent a reasonable amount of time with it, I found it similarly evasive. I’d go so far as to say it seemed indistinct. After the meeting I decided I was fed up of it. We have enough woozy postmodern ambient dance scapes to last the rest of the decade don’t we. Isn’t LP1 just another to chuck on the pile?
Now, listening once more on headphones, it sounds utterly fabulous. Rich in detail, deeply resonant and cut through with dark undertows. Plus, and here’s the thing, the songs are first rate, each one hiding at least one moment that forces you to close your eyes and nod whilst an icicle is forced gently through your heart.
I’d planned to write about how I’d decided I can do without FKA Twigs in my life. I’ve changed my mind.
Tom listened: I have bought precious few records this year, mainly through lack of inspiration, so I was pleased when, a couple of weeks ago I picked up FKA Twigs and had something, at least, to play at our albums of the year meeting.
On first listen I thought I had discovered a massive flaw in my thinking…I hated the lyrical content of the first few tracks of LP1 to such an extent that even before the fourth track, Hours, had finished I was already wondering whether the record shop would allow me to return a record that had already been played. Great! I chance my arm on a record after months of abstainance and it turns out to be a dud. So much for album of the year!
But, but , but…a few more plays and it really does begin to sound like album of the year material. Sure, the lyrical content is still about a cringeworthily (I know that’s not a word) explicit as I can bear – that’s not going to change with exposure, is it! – but I barely notice it now, because the songs are just so damn good. The record is so crisp, the songwriting so innovative, the album so hard to pin down in terms of genre. Best of all, for me, is its unpredictability. Crescendos are missed, vocals drop out, songs slow down, speed up. It should be a mess but it works brilliantly. So the apparent flaws I felt were insurmountable at first have been well and truly neutered and I had been gearing up to producing LP1 at our last meeting of the year, looking forwards to announcing to all and sundry that my album of the year was yet another solo female singer-songwriter…when Nick goes and ruins it all prematurely. I guess now I’ll have to go out and buy something else. Here’s to hoping lightning really does strike twice!