- Young Turks
By Adam DePollo, Daily Arts Writer
Published October 1, 2013
English singer FKA Twigs grew up in Gloucestershire, the petite daughter of a Jamaican father and part-Hispanic mother. As she revealed in a recent Pitchfork interview, she developed her musical persona singing choruses over rap songs at local Jamaican youth centers. She felt more at home with her father’s culture, feeling out of place in the largely white English farm country.
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Traces of that lonely, “sort of off” girl leak through on FKA Twigs’s EP2 in the morose atmosphere of brooding bass lines and heavy reverb underneath her ethereal voice. The four tracks on the EP — produced by Yeezus collaborator Arca — take cues from the 1990s British trip-hop scene (think the theme song to “House, M.D.”) and from the so-called PBR&B styles of The Weeknd or How To Dress Well. But Arca lets these influences marinate and blend together into something a bit darker and more industrial than either.
The swelling bass line at the beginning of the opening track “How’s That” meshes well with the dull thud of the kick and the echoing of the delay-laden snare drum, only to have that solidarity shattered by what sounds like a ping-pong ball bouncing back and forth between the right and left sides of the stereo. Arca’s penchant for unusual percussion continues on the crushing “Water Me,” where a clicking radiator seems to chug along under ghostly vocal samples and Twigs’s multi-tracked voice. The end result feels like walking through the metallic shell of an abandoned factory while disembodied voices echo out of the walls.
Twigs’s singing isn’t overshadowed by Arca’s production, however. The clear tone of her voice and the power of her lyrics demand attention. On “Ultraviolet,” she sets herself adrift in an endless expanse of broken promises and hanging questions, layered with sexual tension and basking in sensuality and all of its dark pleasures. Sexuality, of course, is and has been an important part of the appeal of R&B since its inception, and it’s an aspect which Twigs doesn’t shy away from on EP2.
Her sexuality, however, is nothing like the egotistical showmanship of R. Kelly: She prefers to outline the subject without filling in all of its scandalous detail, singing “I want you / In my / Oh, oh, you / You feel right, and that’s so amazing” on “How’s That.” She approaches sex in a way reminiscent of The Weeknd, acknowledging both the physical pleasure and emotional ambiguity of the act. Indeed, Twigs’s perspective — assertive and yet aware of the two-sided nature of sexuality — is an interesting foil to The Weeknd’s occasionally repentant scumbag (he has been giving out condoms on his Kiss Land tour). On “Water Me” in particular, Twigs recognizes the reciprocal nature of the love-making act, acknowledging her own errors as much as those of her lover.
EP2 does run into some trouble, however, in that Twigs seems stuck on more or less one topic on all four tracks. She vacillates between losing herself in the sensual pleasure of physical love and languishing in remorse after the fact, and in the end never really comes to a conclusion. Her singing seems to reflect being trapped in this dilemma, as she never ventures far out of a single octave over the entire EP.
That being said, Twigs’s indecisiveness is a refreshing perspective in a culture where sexuality is an unquestionable good. The contrast of Arca’s dark beats and her delicate voice mirrors the emotional ambiguity of sex, forcing you to ask if it’s quite as good as it seems to be.