Pay no mind to the opaque facial expression that London’s Tahliah Barnett wears on the cover of new album LP1 (Young Turks). Barnett, a distressed and elfin spinster who records Vespertine-like ballads under the non de plume FKA Twigs, is nothing if not forthright.
Where many of her peers on the revitalized trip-hop scene speak in circumspect innuendo—think of PARTYNEXTDOOR and his coded sexual impositions—Barnett cuts transparently to the chase. “Am I just a number to you?” she snivels over pots-and-pans percussion on “Numbers.” On “Water Me,” sirens whistle and drums palpitate while Barnett memorializes an atrophied romance: “He won’t make love to me now.” “Two Weeks” is just as blunt (“Higher than a motherfucker/Dreaming of you as my lover”). Barnett is such a downer that her farcical moniker starts to make sense. Eeyore’s house was made of twigs, after all.
Even when she’s singing in a gossamer soprano—at times, as on “Kicks” and “Pendulum,” she sounds like the chiffon-voiced daughter of Aaliyah and Chantal Kreviazuk—Barnett can be assaultively direct. On “Give Up,” she resolves to salvage her failing relationship: “I’m here to stay/Just nod your head and give up,” she tells her boyfriend with an unblinking stare and a white-knuckle grip on the door knob. But she’s also symptomatic, the years of dating fatigue right there in her voice. “Lights On” might be the most funereal song ever written about relearning to trust.
LP1 is a record of and for its time. There are synth spirals, gusts of reverb, jogging breakbeats and dubstep wobbles gone frantically medieval. But it also bucks existing trends. Women in R&B usually have to play by bifurcated rules; we prefer for them to sing about lasting, monogamous love. (Leave the debauched kiss-and-tells to the Weeknd.) Barnett is the wrong woman to consult about that. LP1 ushers us through a world of incomplete cognition where lasting, monogamous love isn’t on the table. —M.T. Richards