Friday, August 15, 2014

FKA twigs - "LP1"

Listen to FKA twigs' album "LP1" at the bottom of this post.
The internet bought in to the hype surrounding Gloucestershire, England singer Tahliah Barnett last year due to her generally brilliant "EP2." Featuring generally brilliant production from Arca, the project took risks and about-faced more than most full-length albums. This all turned out brilliant, generally. On top of that, her eclectic visual presence, especially the vaguely pornographic and generally brilliant video to "Papi Pacify," convinced most internet music nerds that FKA twigs was generally brilliant and something they had never seen before. The music drew comparisons to Björk and Aaliyah.

Barnett's debut full-length came out this week to general acclaim. Critics usually froth at the mouth after a record this hyped comes out, but the universal praise for "LP1" is perplexing.

What is perhaps the record's biggest problem comes at its beginning. The only redeeming quality of "Prelude" is a brief, slick hip-hop breakdown in the middle, but it does little to showcase Barnett's talent. The only reason it appears to be there is to push the album's run time over 40 minutes so people can better justify spending 10 bucks on it. It's clear filler.

That's a shame, because the opener proper, "Lights On," might be the best of the album's four good songs—yes, four; you read that correctly. The honking synth, acoustic bass, and panflute bring to mind jazz and world music, not too far from the eclectic (and admittedly goofy) sounds of Pat Metheny. The chords in the chorus switch from minor to major in a manner similar to "Spain."

From there the record goes in to sinister, brooding lead single "Two Weeks." While the excellent video for the track is less sexual than that of "Papi Pacify," the lyrics are not. "You know I'd quench that thirst," "I can fuck you better than her," "My thighs are apart for when you're ready to breathe in," etc. Barnett delivers these bristly lyrics in her deadpan way, slinking in and out of the accompaniment and moving with the song like a wisp of smoke. Her voice tensely pushes higher and higher, nearing its limit as it explodes in a cathartic release in the bridge, which is one of the best musical moments on record so far in 2014.

But with the brilliant tandem of the album's opening two songs, it's already peaked. The album never reaches the musical or lyrical intensity after those two songs, going into the boring "Hours." The song feels like it wasn't finished. Its verse is disappointingly undeveloped. The song leans on the crutch of its lackluster hook and becomes redundant in the process.

Barnett previously found work as a backup dancer for pop videos, including Jessie J's "Do It Like A Dude." That's the thematic material for "Video Girl." The song feels forced and whiny. Why should anyone care that Barnett gets annoyed by people asking her if she's "the girl from the video?"

The second half of the record is mostly disposable. The production on "Numbers" is quirky and catchy in the way that Björk's album "Debut" is, but again, the songwriting leaves much to be desired. "Closer" and "Give Up" are both lethargic, their hooks too generic and poppy.

Closer "Kicks," however, has the same glitchy minimalism that trip-hop acts like Portishead explored a decade ago. As the longest track on the album, "Kicks" fills all of its five minutes and 25 seconds meaningfully, swirling through various sounds and structures. The closer is Barnett's best vocal performance of the album. Barnett dives in to her Knowles-esque lower register on the song in addition to stabbing the melody with her piercing falsetto.

The deliberate ballad "Pendulum" builds ever so slowly. Palm-muted guitar and echoing keyboard evoke post-punk. A clicking sound in the beat sounds like a knock on a door as Barnett tentatively delivers the song's longing lyrics: "So lonely trying to be yours."

The album has some great moments and Barnett has loads of potential. But most of it is mediocre. It gets boring quickly, and then gets even more boring. It's a short album by comparison, with only ten tracks, but most of the songs end up sounding twice as long as they actually are. "EP2" sounded consistent because Barnett stuck with one producer. On her debut LP, she uses a slew of hip-hop, pop, and avant-garde producers and it sounds disjointed. Barnett isn't a good enough songwriter yet to cook up a good album out of the diverse and challenging ingredients she has here from the producers.

"LP1" has loads more personality than other recent efforts by British R&B singers. That being said, it doesn't deserve to be put in a category with the best albums of the year. It has very little lasting power besides those few choice singles. And it's light-years away from work that the genre greats to whom she's drawing comparisons have done. Barnett has a lot of work to do if she wants to avoid being forgotten in a year.

Grade: C

NEXT WEEK: Cymbals Eat Guitars' defiant rocker "LOSE."

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