Recently, R&B has become an unlikely hotbed of radical sonic experimentation, and British singer FKA twigs (born Tahliah Barnett) is taking a prominent role in defining its leading edge. After two EPs that earned her an ardent underground following among critics, club kids, and fashion-industry types, the sensibly named LP1 is both her first major aesthetic statement and a bid for pop stardom on her own terms.
A singular kind of diva who asserts herself subtly, twigs sings in a near whisper that often threatens to blend in with the instruments behind it. But she exerts enough of a magnetic pull to lure listeners into some challenging territory: LP1 is sparing with its hooks, favoring texture over melody. Its fractured beats largely avoid straight rhythms, and the synthesizer tones often approach industrial noisiness; without her vocals, it would essentially be an album of avant-garde electronics. Still, her voice — multitracked into ethereal washes of sound — makes even the most abstract moments compelling. And when standouts such as ”Lights On” and ”Pendulum” finally cohere and deliver sing-alongable moments, the payoff is all the more intense.
Twigs’ vocal style and fashion sense — her sounds may be minimalist, but her wardrobe choices are not — have drawn a lot of comparisons to the late, great Aaliyah. When it comes to her airy lilt and effortless sensuality, the comparison fits. But with her eccentric compositions, enigmatic aura, and extraterrestrial talent, it might make even more sense to call her the new Björk. A