It feels good when FKA twigs's music occasionally deviates from its steady pump and, out of nowhere, changes tempo. It's hot when the 26-year-old London-based leftfield soul singer comes upon a word that she then loops like a sonic gif. "You like that? You like that?" she's implying. Yeah, I like it.
Sometimes she asks such things explicitly—her breathy delivery bugs out into a warped, Ween-ish quiver during the bridge of "Pendulum" when she sings, "How does it feel to have me thinking about you?" On "How's That," from 2013's EP2, she asked a simple lingering question: "How's that…feel?" letting the last word ooze out while weird noises bent around her in a makeshift embrace.
The answer to her question: It feels entirely pleasurable. Twigs's mind-blowing, genre-shattering debut album, LP1, is full of avant riffs on sex music, but it's also about as close to a sexual experience as any music I've ever experienced. This album is visceral, and ecstatic—"Pendulum" climaxes with rapid exhalations, delivered frantically like Lamaze breathing that isn't doing its job.
LP1 is a bare album, full of space—space between her dribbled out words, space between beats of what sound like broke-down Timbaland constructions, the roofs of which have been blown off. It's intimate, sometimes startlingly so, like when twigs's voice switches from sounding like it's coming from across the room during the verse of "Lights On" to a whisper so far into your ear, it grazes your brain during the song's pre-chorus: "Live or leave me."
That intimacy is arresting. Unlike what we have come to expect from modern R&B, twigs' voice does not come from her heels with enough melisma to sedate a whale. Her voice generally flutters angelically, like Aaliyah with better pitch and more range. Regardless, as in the best music made in the soul tradition, she sells every word, even when it contradicts something she just said a few songs ago. "Pendulum" opens with a declaration: "I'm a sweet little lovemaker." Just two songs before, in the relatively straightforward and Prince-indebted slow jam "Two Weeks," she has made it clear that she is anything but:
Feel your body closing, I can rip it open
Suck me up, I'm healing for the shit you're dealing
Smoke on your skin to get those pretty eyes rolling
My thighs are apart for when you're ready to breathe in
Suck me up, I'm healing with all the shit you're dealing
Motherfucker, get your mouth open you know you're mine
In a recent Guardian profile, twigs described the conception of "Two Weeks" and its video like this:
I write exactly what I think. If it's a raw subject, I write lots of things and then pull out all the fluff words…Weird things can be sexy. Vulnerability is the strongest state to be in. How boring would it be if we were constantly dominant or constantly submissive? In the video, it's this vision of me feeding myself, milking myself. I was naked, painted in gold, doing krump dance moves. It's bizarre, but hot in a very weird way.
For twigs, variety is the spice of sex life, and it also makes for a layered pop persona. Versatiles have more fun between the sheets, yes, but twigs' multiple dimensions create tension throughout LP1. Like the video of "Two Weeks"—a static shot that keeps pulling back slowly to reveal more and more insanity until what it shows is an entire Queen-of-the-Damned scenario with a bunch of dancing twigs performing on top of a body of water, a whole new world that surely contains curiosities beyond the woman in the red gown we see writhing and suspended—something lurks below the surface. She is as real in the moment as a passionate kiss, but kisses end, passion abates, and we alter with circumstance. And not all kisses are the same, either: In "Hours," a song about making out, twigs sings, "How would you like it if I sip before I bite / But it wasn't too hard so it felt alright?"
"Some of the songs that people think are the most sexual are not at all to me," she told Pitchfork. "Like when I sing, 'If you want to touch me you can do it with the lights on,' that's a metaphor for letting certain people see the different, ugly sides of you that others won't be able to see."
She misquotes her song here, actually—the line is, "When I trust you we can do it with the lights on "—and what follows it immediately is, "When I trust you we'll make love until the morning," which would seem to confirm what everyone thinks "do it" means when they hear a person say it, anyway.
I'm not quite sure what to make of twigs's seeming misreading of her own music, other than that she is mercurial and that she takes solace in space—both musical and interpretative. So much of her persona seems calculated in the most refreshing way possible.
Twigs is at odds with what we have come to expect from sexuality in female pop singers. I've never heard a woman in R&B evoke the type of violent aggression that she does in "Two Weeks" ("Feel your body closing, I can rip it open"), and if a man sang "Give Up" ("I know that sometimes you wish I'd go away, away / But I wish that you would know that I'm here to stay, to stay / Just nod your head and get up / I'm not gon' let you give up, babe"), think pieces calling out his creepiness would pop up like weeds. Earlier this year, the white alt-R&B artist Tom Krell told Pitchfork, "The music I want to make is somehow slightly more holy than" the "crass," libidinous R&B of the mainstream (Miguel is his example). Instead of telling, the unapologetically crass twigs shows: "Closer" has the sway and echo of a hymn.
For a few years now, dance music has maintained a ubiquity not experienced since the '70s disco boom. All the while I have longed for a slower response to this utilitarian musical ideal, an artist who's willing to penetrate the slow jam and infect it with genuine oddness without losing any of its sex or soul. Twigs does this astonishingly well. She is consistently idiosyncratic without seeming consciously obtuse. She grounds herself in the earthly pleasures of flesh, while transcending trappings of genre and gender.
I haven't heard a debut album that I loved so much in years, and I haven't been this obsessed with an album, period, in years. LP1 makes me feel like I'm in college again. This is sex, this is love, and this is so good that it's way too easy to confuse one for the other.