FKA twigs, or ‘Formally Known As twigs’ spelled out, erupted onto the music scene with her stunningly sexy debut EP in 2013. The world waited with bated breath for her much-anticipated second album, LP1. Suffice to say she has not disappointed. On the contrary, FKA twigs has firmly established herself as one of the most hard-hitting, provocative and idiosyncratic artists to come from Britain since David Bowie.
No stranger to the music industry, British musician Tahliah Barnett previously worked as a backup dancer for various pop music videos. Barnett’s continuing fascination with music videos is made evident by the fact that every song on the new album is accompanied by equally spectacular and quirky visual art.
In her fourth track on the album, Video Girl, Barnett speaks openly about gaining mild recognition for her previous work as a backup dancer. She discusses how this potentially informs her identity as an artist. As if anticipating preconceptions of her artistic integrity, Barnett asks, “Was she the girl that’s from the video?// you lie, you lie, you lie.” In a profound existential reflection, she admits, “I can’t recognise me”, truly making Video Girl one of the stand out songs of the album.
While British music is known as notoriously being devoid of sex appeal, FKA twigs breaks through this stereotype in the most spectacular fashion. The themes of the album swing between love, loss of identity, isolation and self-preservation. It is fitting, then, that centrepiece song, Pendulum, should feature so heavily on the album. The raw fragility in the lyrics, and the sweetness in her voice make the tracks even more poignant as she cries, “So lonely trying to be yours // when you’re looking for so much more”. The standout track, and arguably most breathtaking video, is Two Weeks, where the lyrics are dripping with lust and the listener’s ears are teased with her gasping breath moments before the chorus. She is unashamed of the content, moaning, “higher than a motherfucker, dreaming of you as my lover”, and “I can fuck you better than her”. It’s hard to resist the sensation of her voice pulsating through your eardrums, especially with lines like “my thighs are apart for when you’re ready to breath in // suck me up I’m healing”. The grit of the lyrics effectively contrast with the refined and heavily processed instrumentals. The two elements work in a sort of cacophonous harmony, and this is perhaps what defines the sound as being particularly distinct.
The album flows fluidly in a glittery mélange of discordant sounds and timely auto tune. Despite the miscellany of sounds used – from clattering gunshot, out-of-tune cello, or the gradual chinking of a pendulum swinging – the most unique and diverse instrument is Barnett’s vocals. Ranging from Grimes-esque high-pitched cries, to out of breath whispers, to Beyoncé-like power chords, Barnett effectively utilises her voice to create a sound that is idiosyncratic to its core.
Coming off the backs of some outstanding British artists, and working to move from the her own shadows as a former backup dancer, it is evident how fiercely FKA twigs is attempting to redefine her artistic identity. Her album cover plays with the idea of malleability with a plastic sheen melting over her doll-like expression. Doe-eyed and donning tight piggy tail buns, it instills a vision of FKA twigs that is manufactured at the same time as being vulnerable. She appears as childlike while omitting a certain boldness, and is representative of one of many dichotomies that pervade FKA twigs as an artist. The red, purple and blue glaze washed against her cheeks is almost reminiscent of the iconic David Bowie red and blue lightning bolt, and is potentially a nod to the previous British musicians who reinvigorated sex appeal in their music. Similarly, it’s hard not to notice the potential hint at Joy Division in Closer, and song that repeatedly chants “isolation” in a similar fashion to the iconic 70s group did in their song, Isolation from album, Closer.
Irrespective of the potential inspiration and meaning of each song, LP1 stands alone as a masterpiece of modern experimental music.
FKA twigs celebrates vulnerability and frailty in her second album, and the outcome is something undeniably strong. Though Barnett needed to change her name from ‘Twigs” to “FKA twigs” as previous artists already copyrighted the name, it is abundantly clear that Barnett’s notoriety has far surpassed that of ‘Twigs”. It is almost fitting that she take up the acronym before her name, highlighting her strong desire to assert her identity in the wake of what’s come before. And with that amount of brawny passion acting as a driving force for this young female artist, it’s almost impossible not to sit up, listen, and relinquish any prudish conceptions you might have about British music – this lady’s a game changer.