FKA Twigs - LP1
“Censor the body and you censor breath and speech at the same time. Write yourself. Your body must be heard.” Whether FKA Twigs (aka Tahliah Barnett) is all that well-versed in the work of Hélène Cixous doesn’t really matter. What matters is the way the uncompromising, outspoken and exhilarating physicality of her music on LP1 allows a vital voice to be heard.
Whether it’s been her choreography, her videos or of course her music, Barnett has occupied herself up to now with complex, visceral and intimate portrayals of women. With the canvas of a full-fledged record at her disposal though, she has the opportunity to pull all these fragments together and build a full-fledged narrative. She stretches out on LP1, picking over the nuances of gender dynamics, sexuality and relationships and running the gamut in tone and content from the disconcertingly fragile to the subversively hyper-sexual.
Her sound captures the alternating tension and exhilaration of this subject matter nigh-on perfectly. Simultaneously seedy and angelic, it’s informed by everything from fin-de-siècle Timbaland to the ambient, aggressiveness of producers like Zomby and Clams Casino so as to ultimately formulate into the sound of a kind of post-Burial Bjork.
With these kind of reference points renowned for their experimentalist not-giving-of damns, it’s perhaps not surprising that it’s the most straightforward, direct moments of LP1 that make the least substantial impact, namely ‘Numbers’ and ‘Give Up’. Whilst elsewhere Barnett dabbles in a wide variety of moving parts (palm-muted guitars, gorgeous choral vocals and even some jazzy double-bass), these more genre-specific moments give little except more weight to her argument that she shouldn’t be restricted to the same cloudy-R&B category The Weeknd made a thing. FKA Twigs might well be in those waters, but she’s swimming a hell of a lot deeper.
Summing it up is the lyrical journey Barnett takes on providing glimpses of an understated but undoubtedly growing confidence and control. She builds from the brutally reductive repetition of “I love another and thus I hate myself” on ‘Preface’, through the overcompensating assertiveness of “motherfucker, get your mouth open you know you’re mine” on ‘Two Weeks’, all the way up to the comparative buoyancy of the self-reliant, bold frankness of ‘Kicks’: “When I’m alone I don’t need you, I love my touch, know just what to do”.
It might not seem like much on paper (or screen), but after a record that’s zoomed in on the flaws of squashing the self, and submissively submitting to the wills and attention of a distant man (“you know I’d put you first”; “My thighs are apart for when you’re ready to breathe in”), the network of experienced and empowering breaths Barnett takes on LP1 ultimately have the utmost importance. She’s intimidating in her intimacy, awkward and authentic, an outlier, and being heard loud and clear.