We’re spending the month of December looking back at some of the great new releases that we missed out on reviewing earlier this year. This is The Rest of 2014.
To say there’s something of a stigma when it comes to femininity in pop music is an understatement. Taylor Swift can sell 1.2 million records in a week, but goddammit if the media can make it through a 24-hour news cycle without cracking jokes about her romantic history, or her knack for writing songs about it. Nicki Minaj, one of the biggest
female rappers in the game, released a deeply personal third LP and the chiefest criticism I’ve seen of it online is that too much of it revolves around her personal life and not enough about, IDK, putting vaginas on sideburns. Beyoncé wrote a couple of songs about fucking her husband, loving her daughter, and being happy with herself, and people lost their collective shit. It’s as though we love listening to women sing, but we can’t stand it if they sing about shit that might actually matter to them.
LP1, the debut album from newcomer FKA twigs, for my money, is one of the most purely feminine pieces of music to come out this, or any other, year. It’s fierce and undeniable in a way that few pieces of pop can really aspire to be. There’s a lot of throwing twigs into the “alternative R&B” bin, largely because it’s not generally acceptable to have a musical genre titled after “weird brown people whose virtuosity exceeds my narrow ability to categorize and label art” but what she makes is pop music. There’s R&B there, and trip hop, and loads of other influences and touchstones, but this is pop music in 2014. It’s layered and it’s nuanced, but it packs an efficient, statement-like punch.
When I first discovered this album, I was told by friends and also, largely, the entire internet, that I should like it, so I ended up glossing over it heavy and missing out. If you asked me about FKA twigs then, all I’d really be able to competently discuss would be her immaculately conceived baby hair edges and even then I’d be out of my depth beyond a cursory serving of slack jawed awe. More recently, I started streaming it in the background at work or while writing, because it felt innocuous enough not to get in the way of completing tasks or typing sentences. In that sense, I was correct. Her subtle, wisp of a voice is a lot less disruptive than, say, Migos. She doesn’t make elevator music. FKA twigs makes music that sounds like aliens, or perhaps transdimensional beings from the future, bringing a woman’s diary to life using holograms, lasers, and synthesizers. She’s Bjork-as-Jem gently caressing a set of pink star earrings and communicating with Synergy in hushed, achingly vulnerable tones.
The first track from the album to ear-worm it’s way into my brain was “Video Girl,” which I mistakenly interpreted as a narrative about deceptive lovers, perhaps a mini-movie about dating a musician who philanders with video models. I get that twigs herself used to be a video model and the song is more than likely her response to people who never thought she’d transcend that particular station in life, but the strain in her voice when she asks “is she the girl from the video?” rang less like her acting out her gossiping naysayers, but more the pained pleading of a lover undone by lies and misdeeds. That was the direct moment I perked up and started really listening to the lyrics, sharply written and nakedly expressive words that are easy to dismiss or outright ignore when presented with such exciting, atmospheric instrumentals.
The production on the album, courtesy of twigs herself, along with Yeezus contributor Arca, cloud rap pioneer Clams Casino, and Emile Haynie (who’s produced for Kid CuDi and Lana Del Rey), among others, crystalizes twigs and her thoughts into these porcelain smooth grooves that are as unpredictable as they are gorgeous. The music’s genuinely experimental edge alternatively soothes and discomfits, turning up the dissonance when necessary, and dialing it down to support moments of astonishing vulnerability. It’s that very vulnerability that appeals to me the most about LP1. There’s a purity to the distillation of twigs’ voice, a refreshing clarity. It doesn’t sound or feel like a woman’s voice truncated into something men might find palatable. It feels raw, untampered with.
At it’s best, LP1 feels like an unfettered representation of a woman’s thoughts beamed directly onto wax. The fears, the doubts, the fantasies, the dread, the moments of triumph, the yearning. On “Numbers,” twigs asks (as pointedly as possible) if she was just a number to some suitor, and it comes off less like pleading and more like an indictment. “Give Up” is quietly inspiring in how open she’s being about her insecurities and hang-ups in a relationship. On “Hours,” a funhouse mirror of seductive slink, twigs is at her most intimate, as the song manages to be sexier than any overtly explicit pop radio come-on you’re likely to hear from some of her peers. The moments of weakness and the moments of strength are presented on an even footing, each a different but vital dimension of the overall package.
There’s a disturbing kind of humor about the male perception of what goes on in a women’s mind. The opening frames of David Fincher’s Gone Girl come to mind here, that sad sense that we (men) never know what goes on in their heads. Maybe it’s because in popular media, their voices are so rarely amplified without the message becoming muddled or interfered with. On her debut album, FKA twigs presents an engrossing and rapturous peek into that allegedly unknowable mind. You may listen to it because it’s mind fuck electronic music that feels like you’re having a particularly good trip in the back of a spaceship, but you should stick around to hear a decidedly human and unfortunately rare expression of self, of womanhood.
Maybe afterwards try to keep those ears out for other expressions of femininity and stop cracking jokes about pop starlets’ love lives.
LP1 is available online and at your local record store.