FKA Twigs – LP1

The Hype machine is well and truly in motion with FKA twigs. She’s got the Mercury nomination and she’s already proven to be a step forward from the usual  ‘next big thing labelled artist. For starters, she’s done her dues, working as a dancer for the likes of Kyliuwith some good and bad experiences lending themselves to shaping the independent character she is. She’s learnt Ableton to produce the bulk of her own work, she’s self-released her first EP via Bandcamp, and had creative control over both her music and videos from the start. Perhaps she’s just a bit older (26) than some of her contemporaries and that’s given her a more realistic worldview, but it’s refreshing to see someone so determined to ensure that what gets out there to represent her as an artist, but in a fiercely independent way, rather than anything as contrived as Gaga.

But what about the music? I’ll add a disclaimer here: I come to this album with curiosity, but also the understanding that this music isn’t likely to light my fire. I’m no pigeonholer, and this is far from the slick R’n’B that lazy jounalists will paint it as. It’s much more than that, with loose structures, odd sounds, clicks and off-beat persusion. Volcas are double-tracked falsetto and deep whispers, drenched in reverb. And then there’s the lyrics. Overtly sexual, and not in a trite way that’s the standard for rap and hip-hop or some more mainstream R’n’B, but really unashamedly gritty and open. That’s caused a lot of buzz, and that’ before you get to the videos. You only have to have a look at her videos, especially Two Weeks, to see that she’s something different.

But is it for me? I don’t know. I’ve listened to the album four times already, and I just don’t connect with it at the moment. It’s an odd mix of sexual lyrics, but woven into a structure that seems cold and detatched. It’s very modern, and from the way the music sounds and is produced, I take my hat off to her for almost pushing against the standard template, even to a point where it will lose her fans or sales, but then that’s what great artists do. She’s some way off that but you have to applaud it.

I’d compare it to Grimes in many ways, an album that many loved but really grated when I first encountered it. I think a lot of the problems I’d had with that album were more around interviews I’d read with Grimes and fond her to be pretentious and irritating. For FKA Twigs, I actually like everything I’ve read from her and about her, but I’m struggling to penetrate it at the moment. Maybe, like Grimes, I’ll listen to it after a break and it’ll gel.

Get stuck in and let me know your thoughts.

31 comments

  1. David Allison

    Gosh. I thought I was going to love this. I’m not sure I do.

    There’s something really interesting going on sonically with a number of artists who are pulling together the dispirate influences of early 90s R’n’B, old school jungle, trip-hop and – yes – even the old fashioned torch song – and creating something really fresh with it. Everyone from The Knife to Grimes to Aluna George to James Blake are pushing boundaries with these sounds. FKA Twigs clearly falls neatly into the universe and there’s a lot going for this record. It’s gossamer light (I assume she’s called Twigs cos her music sounds like it could fall to pieces at any moment, it’s so fragile!), but it has a proper ‘sound’ that you can inhabit. Her voice isn’t mind-blowingly distinct but it has a girlish charm that reminded me occassionally (and probably quite oddly) of a more high-pitched Aaliyah.

    But unlike Aaliyah, her voice doesn’t have a huge amount of weight, and sadly, I’m not sure her songs do too. I’m on my 5th listen and I’m still struggling to tell one song from another. The tempo is one-paced and the glitchy drum patterns and vocal effects are all present and correct, but I feel like someone forgot to write the hooks.

    However – and this a big caveat – albums like this take time and it might reveal itself to me to be a better beast than I feel it is right now. But as a Mercury nominee, I worry that it ticks all the right boxes without actually having much within that can excite the music fan. So for me, right now, this twig isn’t growing any leaves.

    • whyohwhyohwhy

      I’m in a similar place to you with this brother David. While it’s not really my usual vibe, there’s actually a lot of things to admire here, both in terms of the music and the artist herself.

      But… As you say it’s almost too light and ethereal, like the (intentional) lack of melody is the problem in itself. However, I think it’s an album you need to be able to give time and also listen in relative seclusion. Listening to it on the walk to the shops today (still ill so I’m at home) with nothing else to distract me, it began to sink in a bit. I think some if this is down to the vocals being so far back onto the mix that with ambient sound usually in evidence, it’s actually hard to catch and connect with the lyrics. I do struggle with music like this. It’s one of the reasonsi always struggled with Grimes.

      FYI… Twigs comes from when she was a dancer. Apparently her bones click and crack hence the nickname she got given.

  2. misterstory

    Hi guys. I have similar experiences to you but am probably a bit further down the track as I gave this time on Spotify. My first point is that this is in no means easy-listening. It does take a bit of an effort to listen to at first. I don’t think that is inherently a bad thing as we all have albums we loved on first listen, played to death and then never touched again.

    I find it difficult to classify this … and I know there is no need. All the Trip Hop references I feel are more pertinent to the EP not this LP and therefore I am not sure if they are relevant. As for the R&B tag that has pissed her off (‘people have only said that since they’ve seen my face’) well its hard to suggest that 2 Weeks is not R&B. For me that track is an absolute killer. Massive. Huge track. I love it. Nothing comes close to moving me the way that track did / does but I like this album more than it seems Brothers Hornsby and Allison do. Perhaps cause I’ve had it for longer, perhaps cause it fits me better.

    The Aaliyah reference is interesting as I think that this is the album that Timberland and Aaliyah would have made if the record company had let them follow the ‘Need a Resolution’ theme for an album. Dark, twisted, jolted and desperate? Have a listen to ‘Need a Resolution’ again … its a belter!

  3. misterstory

    I guess there is a good question with many of our Albums of the month ‘How much are you willing to listen to something that you don’t get much from’? All albums get better with plays but we have limited time to listen to music we don’t like at first and it can be an effort. I must say, I almost only listen to this in the car when I can give it my full attention? It is not background music to have on in the house. Its too distracting and jagged for me to fit this purpose.

  4. misterstory

    … oh I nearly forgot. Interesting that Brother H has compared this to Grimes as I have started listening to that album again (perhaps sub-conciously linking the two). I do think they are both linked by huge hype that does make it harder to listen without prejudice. However, I was going to suggest a re-assessment of that album as I think it is still a really good album but it missed by a county mile as an album of the month.

    • whyohwhyohwhy

      I’m with you brother Joseph. This needs undivided attention and I’m prepared to give it more time. But how many more goes? Time is such a premium in this modern world. How much time can you devote to something before you admit defeat? I think the most likely result is me ending up liking a few tracks from it, but it ending up like Grimes: something I’ll come back to and enjoy more once the fuss dies down, but one I know I’ll probably never truly connect with.

  5. nolankane706

    I’m really enjoying everyones thoughts on this so far and I have been trying hard to break away and gather my own.

    I heard an interview with her in the summer and she is an interesting character by all accounts and I truly believe in what she is trying to do with this album. As it is her first album I’ll give her a bit of slack but I think she’s missing something from this… perhaps this will come on future projects (being nominated for the mercury means there will be more albums most likely).

    Even though I hoped to avoid relating this to the Mercury I can’t; this album on last check was the odds on favourite to take the gong this year which I find that interesting. James Blake then this… it seems that a more electric sound is the leading sound in the UK at the moment. Is she the best that electronic music has to offer int he UK at the moment? I think she is far from it sadly. I find she is re-hashing much that has already been done over the last few years.

    Brother Guy has a really good point with this; how long should you give an album? Over all I find this fairly boring, though I have only been listening to the album for the last week. Will it grow on me? Am I missing something with this that many get? The album is well produced, and she sounds good but it’s not mind blowing. Boundries aren’t pushed by this.

    The Aaliyah refference is spot on and I’m starting to let that influence my listening to it. I must admit it’s helping win some points for me.

    I’m going to continue to chip atr this but it’s going to have to battle for my time with some pretty strong new music that is out at the moment and I’m not sure if it’s going to win.

    • whyohwhyohwhy

      Good discussion on this one as it segment polarises and while there’s agreement about the artist, the music is dividing. Add I’ve said, I think she’s really interesting, and her control and method are pretty admirable, something she’d not had done I feel without having done her years as a dancer and seen different sides to the industry.

      But the music I’m struggling with. The James Blake comparisons are valid, as he’s used his voice as a tool, often with lots of fx and not that forward in the mix, but I rate them miles apart musically. Blake’s music is beautiful and haunting, and even with the ethereal vibe to it, it still engages. With Twigs, I struggle to connect with it at all, and I honestly can’t hear much of what she’s singing, which, while it shouldn’t be the be all and end all, I struggle with. And bar 2 Weeks, which I do like, nothing on the album feels sexy to me at all. But then hey! I’m a 39-year old white man, I’m not the target audience!

  6. David Allison

    This is where I’m at now. I have two newish albums in my iTunes folder, Perfume Genius and FKA Twigs. Every time I think about which one I want to listen to, I pretty much always choose Perfume Genius. Now and again, I choose FKA Twigs, and then about half way through, I regret it, thinking I wish I’d chosen PG.

    Is it REALLY as sonically adventurous as it wants to think it is? I’m not sure it is. It’s a nice aural round up of sounds that are floating around, but it falls short of much more than that for me.

    So much to admire on this album, but not enough to *love*.

  7. David Allison

    Oh, also, Guy’s comment:
    “…hey! I’m a 39-year old white man, I’m not the target audience!”

    Bullshit to that, man, no reason why this album wouldn’t appeal to us. It’s not like it’s inaccessible.

  8. nolankane706

    Yup, I’m with Divid on this… the fact that you’re 39 has nothing to do with this album not doing it. If you’d given up on music, especially new music then fair point, but not liking this is deeper than an age thing.

  9. misterstory

    Excellent chat on this album! Love it. I like how David’s trying to get in on the ’39 year old man’ comment, dude, its a long time since you’ve been 39. Love you Brother. As a young black man, I can say that I am not sure if I am the target audience. I think part of the problem with this album is the hype and that probably means that the target audience is industry lovies? I don’t know but I’ve lived in Chapple-almost-town and Hulme-almost-moss-side and I don’t think this is playing big on the ‘street’. This is definitely being bought by professionals in their 30s+ … discuss.

    David also stole my point and I will borrow it back from him … this hasn’t had a look in since I got the Perfume Genius album. I need to revisit it cause I was growing into it. But it was taking effort. Mr. Genius is effortless love.

  10. misterstory

    I listened to this twice in the car today, start to finish (not in a row) … and I do have to say its a good album. It does require 100% focus though. I can’t play this at home much. Its not background music for a conversation, too hectic for when Silvia is kicking around and I’m rarely in the mood for it after her bed time. So it looks like the car only for me. I struggle with her denial that its R&B though. That probably makes me a racist though!

  11. misterstory

    As per my other post, I really struggled with the SBTRKT album on the first few listens. After the 2nd I put this album back on in the car and it felt like a big relief. It gave me much more to listen to, much more of interest. Just thought I’d share that as an interesting compare and contrast?

    • whyohwhyohwhy

      I’m actually enjoying it again too. I’m not sure I’ll everlove it, but for me the parallels are clear. And conversely, I’m not sure I’ll every love this either. But I won’t hate it either.

      • whyohwhyohwhy

        I’m sorry gents (or should I be apologising to myself here?) I haven’t listened to this in a fortnight now and may never do again, barring a Grimes-like reappraisal. It’s just not for me.

  12. David Allison

    A little addendum to this discussion. I just read this comment on the Guardian site by a regular, excellent contributor who knows her stuff:
    http://discussion.theguardian.com/comment-permalink/43060952

    In case the link doesn’t work:

    “She is probably the most charismatic and interesting artist to have emerged in the last few years, in terms of image and performance and production. She can get people to pay attention. But then you saw that with all the promotion and critical acclaim she’s only sold 13000 albums. I do know music is essentially no longer about sales, but part of me can’t help but think that her issue is that she doesn’t have songs to match her image, undeniable charisma an ear for interesting sounds.

    Part of it is our current misunderstanding that production and songwriting are somehow the same thing, since producers are so prevalent nowadays. You can have the edgiest most “futuristic” sounds but the public needs something to latch on to, aka songs. If the production overwhelms the sound of what is a vocal album, then you are erecting a wall, and the function of pop music is essentially to invite people IN, not keep them out. The classic often-referenced 90s Timbaland/Missy Elliott-produced albums had both sounds AND songs combined.

    So FKA Twigs is not really a “pop” artist like Kate Bush, who wrote “proper” songs underneath the (her own) inventive production. She’s an experimental artist who is playing at being a pop star.”

    Think she hit the nail on the head.

    • misterstory

      Interesting addition to the debate. I don’t agree with it but interesting read.

      I rarely watch a music video (other than on this blog or researching this blog) i watch close to know terrestrial or satellite TV. It is possible, even today to form an opinion of a musician largely on music alone. Comparing FKA Twigs to Kate Bush is like comparing Stanley Mathews to Lionel Mesi. Different era, different game. I don’t see the point.

      Slating an over-hyped album is an easy target. Lazy journalism. So what. What about all the shit albums that are selling 100,000’s and slip by without denigrating the artists or their impact on society.

      I listen to this album twice yesterday and while I don’t think it deserves the hype I like it. I think it sits heads and shoulders above SBTRCKTGHFF or what every he’s called.

      I don’t want to be the blogs Twigs apologist but thought I should level up the debate as this album does more for me than most this year.

  13. misterstory

    On reflection the football player analogy didn’t work – I should have chosen an-unproven modern day footballer (FKA Twigs) with a well proven, popular if not in all circles footballer from the 70s …. but i don;t know enough about football for all that!

  14. misterstory

    http://pitchfork.com/thepitch/550-fka-twigs-lorde-and-the-changing-landscape-of-female-pop-performance/

    Ok, so I am not doing a very good job of not becoming the blogs resident FKA Twigs apologist (re-arrange that sentence into a grammatically correct flow if you can). The above link is another interesting take on the FKA Twigs conversation that David started and I am now having with myself. This was not sought out to counter David’s link but I stumbled over this on Pitchfork today. Its a discussion of how artists like Lordes and FKA Twigs are using their live shows and performances to become distinct from their peers. Echo’s of Kate Bush anyone? Perhaps the Kate Bush comparison is worthy of further exploration? This is really worth a read. I wanted to take some highlights but its more of a piece that needs to be read in its whole if you have the time.

  15. David Allison

    “I think it sits heads and shoulders above SBTRCKTGHFF or what every he’s called.” made me snort with laughter. It’s the most Dad thing you’ve ever written. CALL THIS REAL MUSIC? Love it.

    That’s a nice wee article you linked to. Would have liked a bit more to it, but I see what they’re talking about. I think that Kate Bush is such a huge shadow over any female solo artist – in the way that the Beatles are to any 4 piece guitar band – that’s it’s hard to avoid a comparison. Interesting, anyway.

    Btw, I’m listening to SBTRCKTGHFF right now.
    😉

  16. misterstory

    Hey, I am a Dad. What can I say? Honestly I can never remember if he SUBTRACT spelled with a K an no vowels or if he’s SUBTRACK. Give me some vowels to play with an I might find him a bit more memorable!

    Interesting that the blog albums that are not loved spark the most debate?

    I’m a massive Kate Bush fan too. We’ve had her on literally constant rotation this week. I understand the comparison but I think the point Ms. Guardian was making wasn’t strengthened by the comparison.

  17. nolankane706

    Ahahaha, this is so out of control!!!

    Kate Bush…. are you having a laugh?

    Get off the crack pipe boys…. in what way is she like Kate Bush…. other than they both dance weird?

  18. whyohwhyohwhy

    So, finally I have my new Macbook back. *sound of crowds cheering* so I’m going to give my twopenneth here.

    I think you all know this album isn’t my thing. However, it doesn’t mean that I can’t agree with some of the points raised. I think she’s a high individual artist, someone that’s admirably in control of their own music, style, and destiny. Given how pop music works that’s pretty rare, and there’s a reason she’s getting so much attention, as well as hype. I think that’s probably what I like most about her, how independent – both in character from the interviews I’ve read, and with her career – she is. It’s good to see that there’s alternative routes still available.

    But… but…. for all the hype, how much records has she sold? Compared to Young Fathers, who I’d not even heard of until the Mercury, she’s been in the spotlight for a while, and even with the non-youth tv stuff I watch, I hear her music on ads and trails on tv. But, that’s just not translated, even close, to the hype she’s got with album sales. I think it’s a shame really, because there’s a lot to admire. But it still doesn’t change the fact I think her music’s just not that engaging. It’s a mix of all sorts, but it just leaves me cold. Yeah, maybe I’m “too old for this shit”, maybe (but I doubt it), and maybe I’m wrong, but in reality while it’s not the sort of thing I’d ever wilfully pick up, I wonder if it’s that same for the general public. Or is this – depressingly – a symptom of the fact she’s not been massively backed and marketed by a big label. Young Turks is cool (sub label of XL), but it doesn’t have the budget to match the big players, and whatever 4.5m YouTube plays of Two Weeks may get you, it doesn’t seem to equate to sales.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but I know what I like, and however great her ethos is, and I fully support that, it’s just not something that’s going to garner repeat plays. I’m afraid I last listened to it weeks ago.

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