Tahliah Barnett's debut impresses with its futuristic vision of R&B
Signed to forward-thinking London imprint Young Turks and the subject of excited industry whispers after videos began surfacing online two years ago, FKA Twigs’ slippery R&B has been hailed as the sound of the future. At the very least, Tahliah Barnett’s craft is ripe for the digital age, when artists are increasingly discovered through screens and devices, and sound is aligned with image more closely than ever before.
Twigs understands this. Her early releases ‘EP1’ and ‘EP2’ came with striking videos: Twigs’ doll-like face rocking back and forth in the video for ‘Water Me’; her mouth stuffed with the fingers of a man three times her size in ‘Papi Pacify’. Before she started writing music, Barnett came to London to train as a professional dancer (eventually dancing in pop promos including Jessie J’s ‘Do It Like A Dude’). ‘LP1’, even without those arresting videos, still dwells on the physical. “Am I suited to fit all of your needs?” she sings in ‘Hours’. In ‘Two Weeks’: “My thighs are apart for when you’re ready to breathe in”. ‘Video Girl’ explores the strangeness of seeing herself on film: “I can’t recognise me”, she sighs at the end.
A patchwork of disorientating clicks and ticks underpins Barnett’s whispery vocals. Unsettling mechanical creaking, first heard on ‘Water Me’, is back on ‘Pendulum’ and ‘Video Girl’. Basslines are sporadic, floating out of songs (‘Lights On’), while synths squelch and soar (‘Give Up’). When it works, as on the icy rattling of ‘Pendulum’, Barnett does for R&B what Grimes did recently for catchy pop, rendering it in thrilling hyper-real hues.
Adding to the prickly excitement, Twigs pitches sound against silence, lending her songs a cosmic eeriness. Even in the moments when the spaciousness feels flat (‘Closer’, ‘Video Girl’), ‘LP1’ is remarkably consistent. Big-name producers – Dev Hynes and Clams Casino on ‘Hours’, Paul Epworth on ‘Two Weeks’ – have been tempered by her controlling hand. This pervading sense of control and commitment to her art proves that Twigs is set on building the sound of the future all by herself.