FKA Twigs

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

EP1 (2012), 7.5/10 (EP)
EP2 (2013), 7/10 (EP)
LP1 (2014) , 5/10
M3LL155X (2015), 7/10 (EP)
Magdalene (2019), 5/10

FKA Twigs, i.e. English mixed-race singer-songwriter and former dancer Tahliah Barnett, did not quite "sing" as vocally sculpted the four songs of EP1 (2012), co-produced with Timmaz "Tic" Zolleyn, in her shivering falsetto that harked back to the erotic revolution begun by Cosey Fanni Tutti via the cocktail-lounge counter-revolution of Sade, while creating a completely different, contradictory, persona that is sexually both vulnerable and assertive. Weak Spot was the manifesto of her art: a super-sensual whisper over an ethereal fluctuating carpet of trip-hop, grime and garage elements. She employs a unique style of minimalistic repetition and hypnotic sumnambulism in Ache that sounds like a stoned version of Laurie Anderson. At the same time Breathe reveals that these are ultimately childish lullabies drenched in complex polyrhythmic textures; and Hide reveals further, disturbing, psychological aspects by "remixing" the format in a slow-motion, oneiric and surrealistic manner.

The tension between glacial cyborg and tender child finds an even more elegant expression on EP2 (2013), produced by Venezuelan-born producer Alejandro "Arca" Ghersi. The erotic industrial psychedelic soul of How's That is a pretext to assemble a soundscape of erratic percussive sounds and gently droning keyboards. The faltering anemic Papi Pacify, that slowly unfolds into a vibrant gospel-y plantation chant, and Water Me, a ballad disintegrating into rhythmic fragments, display her narrative art at its best: creating new meaning within the same conversation, not in a traumatic manner but in a pleasantly aseptic manner. Every song is meticulously saturated with disorienting glitches.

The commercial sell-out on LP1 (Young Turks, 2014) couldn't have been more shameless. The lush arrangements leave little to the imagination, and the magic of her vocals has completely vanished inside ridiculously pretentious and stereotypical structures. The dissonant hip-hop of the Preface is a mirage. The rest of the album is invaded by trivial tedious soul ballads such as Lights On, produced by Arca, and the single Two Weeks, produced by Emile Haynie. There is still a bit of madness in Video Girl, produced by Emile Haynie, and she howls like a rhythm'n'blues shouter in Numbers; whereas the immaculate hymn-like Closer sounds like a tribute to Kate Bush. She ends the album with the strongest of her introverted melodramas, Kicks. But everything is too calculated, cluttered, confused... This sounds like a completely different artist, or, quite simply, a mediocre, faceless singer at the mercy of mainstream producers.

The EP M3LL155X (Young Turks, 2015), pronounced "Mellissa", is an austere psychological essay. Her operatic contralto makes its way through the complex orchestration, rhythm and recitation of Figure 8. The whispered I'm Your Doll, wounded by flocks of sound effects, notably a booming distortion and a wavering organ, is sensual and frightening at the same time; only three minutes long, it's a tour de force of production. The plainest melody fuels In Time, which is as close to conventional "r&b" as her music can get. Her voice mutates again for Glass & Patron, a cubistic remix of Madonna that seems to stop after a few seconds but instead resumes on a much lower register within a sparse, sinister soundscape.

Twigs then released the single Good to Love (2016) and worked on the dance film "Soundtrack 7" while recovering from surgery.

When a new album finally appeared, Magdalene (Young Turks, 2019), mostly produced by Nicolas Jaar, was not so much an FKA Twigs album as a collaboration with a star-sudded cast. Each song is a sonic puzzle sculpted by the collaborators. The results are mostly boring but certainly fashionable. Thousand Eyes, composed with only Jaar's help, is an austere medieval chant that decomposes in warped spacetime to become a sixth-dimension kind of ghost. Jaar, Ethan Flynn and British electronic musician Cy An plunge her into the whirling neurosis of Fallen Alien, surrounded by echoes and refractions of her own voice. Ethan Flynn helped her pen the Kate Bush-esque Home with You, with a rhythm made of found noises. Mary Magdalene, composed with Jaar, Ben Levin and Cashmere Cat, is similar except that the collaborators slowly deconstruct it into a cubistic nightmare. She croons fragile and lyrical in the single Cellophane, created by producers Jeff Kleinman and Michael Uzowuru, and one can imagine her crooning it in front of a symphonic orchestra. These simpler songs are contrasted by complex and disorienting musical creatures that end up feeling like random accumulations of sounds. Emblematic is the babelic Sad Day, composed with help from Jaar, Skrillex, British electronic musician Koreless (Lewis Roberts), producer Benny Blanco (aka Ben Levin, who has produced hits by Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Weeknd, Kanye West, etc), Norwegian dj Cashmere Cat (Magnus Hoiberg) and Noah Goldstein (Kanye West's trusted engineer and then producer of Arcade Fire's The Suburbs and Frank Ocean's Blonde). Twigs' personality is completely lost in these busy meandering pieces. Holy Terrain, a collaboration with rapper Future (Nayvadius Wilburn), Koreless, Jack Antonoff (of the Bleachers), Sounwave (aka Mark Spears, Kendrick Lamar's producer), Skrillex, Poo Bear (aka Jason Boyd, Justin Bieber's producer), Petar Lyondev (of Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares fame) is simply terrible, no matter how famous the collaborators and how much publicized their presence. Often, the sound effects crafted by the cohorts are simply meant to hide the poor value of the song, which is the case for the Whitney Houston-ian Houston-ian torch ballad Mirrored Heart (Flynn, Cy An and Koreless) and of the ambient elegy Daybed, composed with Oneohtrix Point Never's Daniel Lopatin. She seems to have met a lot of interesting people but their influence on her has been to make her think that creating music is simply a matter of dragging interesting people in the studio during the five minutes during which they don't have to produce or play on other people's songs.

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(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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